HARLEM — Harlem-based filmmaker Jeremy Xido was working on a documentary about the construction of a rail line in post-civil war Angola when he struck up a conversation with a musician in a cafe.
"I asked what he played, and he said 'death metal,' and I was like what the f---?" Xido said about the conversation he had in 2009 with guitarist Wilker Flores in the southwest African country.
The 40-year-old director and Fulbright scholar spent seven weeks filming bands in the country's nascent metal and hardcore scene as they planned Angola's first-ever rock festival in 2011. The result was his acclaimed documentary "Death Metal Angola."
Capturing the growls and driving guitars of hardcore music in a context unfamiliar to many viewers, the film premiered in December 2012, has screened in festivals around the world and will open in New York as part of the DOC NYC festival at the IFC Theater on Nov. 16, 2013.
Metal and hardcore music provides a way to express emotions and tell stories not seen in the country's mainstream media, said Xido, a Detroit native who went to Columbia University.
"[There's a] cathartic power in the music," he said. "[It's] a way to criticize and tell truth [that] people in other forms are not telling, combined with a sense of release."
"Our music, because it's aggressive, can talk about the battles that Angola experienced," one of the musicians featured in the film says in its trailer.
The rock scene in Angola was born out of a 27-year civil war that killed nearly 1.5 million people. The war ended in 2002, but memories of the atrocities remain for many young people who grew up during the unrest.
The New York City Fulbright chapter was so inspired by Xido's work they decided his film would be the first project in their inaugural program to support alumni.
"Jeremy is always pushing the edge and I think that translates into the filmmaking he does," said Josephine Dorado, a former Fulbright scholar and an officer on Fulbright's New York board of directors.
The Fulbright New York chapter plans to help organize panels and screenings of the film and introduce the film to those who may be able to get it distributed on a larger scale.
The film is also meant to grab the attention of groups working on similar issues.
"We're organizing a series of private screenings for art organizations whose interests coincide with the core themes of the film," Xido said. "So, with women's rights organizations, children's rights organizations, organizations that are focusing on community resilience."
The first Angolan metal festival drew a few hundred people, despite having been organized on a shoe-string budget and starting five hours late. The second festival was covered by television crews and more than 1,000 people showed up.
While "Death Metal Angola" continues to work its way around the world, the bands featured in it played their third festival in Angola last week. About 20 groups performed, Xido said, with some coming from as far away as Mozambique, on the southeastern end of Africa.
"They've created an incredibly vibrant and supportive environment [in] which people could express and talk about things that have happened in the past and happen now," Xido said.
The filmmaker sees the growing rock scene as something that could be transformational for a post-war society.
"I believe what they've done and what they're doing is pretty extraordinary," Xido said. "It is a society that was just devastated and they're figuring out how to organize a real grassroots musical movement. It's like the early days of a rock movement, without any of the pomp and circumstance."
For more information, sign up to the Death Metal Angola mailing list to find out about local screenings.