Afghanistan’s first psychedelic metal band will hopefully not be their last.
Following District Unknown through their travails, travels and some less than common receptions, Australian documentarian Travis Beard has produced a fairly intimate portrait of the burgeoning performers. Here coming up against some of the harsher circumstances musicians are likely to face, Rockabul serves as both a chronicling of their challenges and those confronting Afghanistan itself.
Most engaging when capturing the varied reactions, some welcoming and others all too contrary, the images of crowds greeting the troupe’s makeshift tour across the country whether it be in the dozens or thousands will resonate strongly with any metal fan, this author among them. The members, not having grown up in an environment as forgiving as many of metal or western music, impart a great deal of the uncommon hurdles they had to overcome to stage their acts and it is altogether fascinating to see.
More interesting still, Beard, by no means a passive actor in his film, plays an abundant and unusually active role in proceedings. Acknowledging the breadth of the role documentarians invariably play in events is not always done and is managed here to good effect. Whether facilitating contact with others or being a visible element of their numerous gigs, the filmmaker’s investment and extended engagement with the band and their story is all too readily apparent to the extent that he is near as much a central figure as District Unknown’s staples.
Veering at times to an exploration of the wider environment in which music is ill-permitted to flourish, a breakdown of aspects of the prevailing political climate is notably involving if on occasion dealt with all too briefly. The latter stages of the film, depicting great upheavals in the band’s life, are of a comparatively lesser focus than their festival outings yet as with so much of this tale will no doubt pique the interest of metal fans all over.
RocKabul on Film Fight Club