In recent years, the world of metal documentaries has been under the shadow of Sam Dunn’s anthropological epics, Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey (2005) and Global Metal (2008). While Dunn’s films on the heavy metal community have been enlightening for metal fans and the population at large, their macro perspectives have caused the smaller stories to fall to the wayside.

Don Argott’s As the Palaces Burn (2013) focuses on the micro and aims to bring the voice of the fans to the forefront this time around.

“I was approached by [Lamb of God’s] manager, Larry Mazer. He wanted to tell the fan story, how music pulls you through very difficult times and unites people in ways that religion and politics often fail,” says Argott.

From this starting point, Argott and the band tried to find great stories around the world and settled on South America, India and Israel, though that last destination never made it into the final cut of the film.

What ended up happening was the arrest of Lamb of God’s lead singer, Randy Blythe, in June of 2012 on a manslaughter charge while on tour in the Czech Republic.

“We were more than halfway done with the filming when Larry called and told us Randy had been arrested. My initial thought from a documentary filmmaker’s perspective was, ‘I gotta go to the Czech Republic.’ You just kick into that mode as a filmmaker and follow the story. The story changes on a dime and you have to be willing to adapt to it,” he says.

With this curveball now in the mix, the next challenge was to balance the story of Blythe’s trial with that of fan stories. In discussing the process of editing the two together, Argott says it was extremely challenging.

“The hardest part of putting a documentary together is in the edit room,” he says.

But with the help of editor Demian Fenton and producer Sheena Joyce, Argott was not afraid of the challenge at hand.

“We’re very brutally honest with each other because it is not about hurt feelings, it’s about, ‘What can we do to make this better?’ We had early cuts of starting the film off with the trial: a scene opens up in Prague and gives a little taste of that. On paper, that sounded right and, when we were thinking about it, it sounded right, but putting it together, it overshadowed everything so that, when you pulled back and went a year earlier and we started doing these fans’ stories it was like, ‘Who fucking cares about the fans? Let’s get back to that. That was the real interesting stuff.’”

Authenticity is what Argott strives for in his films. When asked what draws him to such stories, Argott states that he and his team are “always on the hunt for great characters and great stories.”

His previous film – Last Days Here (2011) – best illustrates Argott’s passion for human stories, for individuals whose life would be unimaginable if it were ever done as a fiction film.

“We always say if you wrote [Last Days Here] no one would ever believe it. If you wrote [Bobby Liebling’s] story as it is in the documentary and wrote that out and somebody acted it out, no one would believe it, it’s too unbelievable,” he says.

But, in Argott’s mind, that is what makes documentaries so fantastic.

“I’m drawn to very strong character stories and I love when people break the rules, and I love when people do something very different with the genre. I think The Act of Killing (2012) was a great example. That movie, to me, is a game changer. It redefined so many things for me of what a documentary could be.”

It will be up to us, the audience, to decide where Argott’s latest film falls on the spectrum of “game changers” and “rule breakers.” But, no matter our decision, Argott believes his film is a very honest portrayal of Lamb of God’s truth.

“You really feel like you’re in it with these guys as they’re experiencing it from one moment to the next and how they’re processing it and what they’re dealing with. It’s a heavy thing that they’re dealing with,” he says.

As the Palaces Burn will be screening April 10 at 9:30 p.m. at the Globe Theatre as part of the Calgary Underground Film Festival.

By Rory O’Dwyer

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