Carla Garapedian’s Screamers stars the prog-metal band System Of A Down and features plenty of performance footage of the group, but it’s not a concert movie; it’s a treatise on the international history of genocide. The concert footage, which might be there as bait to give the movie a hook for the celebrity-besotted media, is justified because of the band members’ Armenian heritage and their involvement in the campaign to get the Turks’ massacre of the Armenians officially recognized as genocide by the American and British governments. That atrocity is now widely recognized as the first modern genocide, and someone in the movie points out that this fact is now being used against those who want it properly commemorated, by people who argue that it can’t be called genocide because, when it happened, the word “genocide” hadn’t been coined yet.
Screamers builds to a last half-hour that indicts the major world nations for their reluctance to label genocide as such, so that they won’t feel they have to do anything to stop it when it occurs, and much of what we hear has a similar catch-22 quality. The meaning of the title comes from an interview with the journalist Samantha Power, the author of A Problem From Hell, who explains that a “screamer” is someone who comes to appreciate the true nature of genocide and, consequently, develops a need to scream in people’s faces about it. Actually, the principals, including the System Of A Down guys, come across as mild, reasonable and well-adjusted; it’s the people on the other side of the aisle—such as Republican Congressman Dan Burton, seen objecting to a vote on recognizing the Armenian genocide because he doesn’t see what it has to do with the war on terruh—who look like rabid dogs trying to get at the pork chops tied around their necks.
As a movie, Screamers is a strange mix—part rockumentary, part history lesson, part get-out-the-vote infomercial. Offstage, the band members don’t generate a lot of electricity, but their devotion to their cause is affecting, especially when they stop by at a gathering outside former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert’s office and are received as conquering heroes by a bunch of middle-aged Armenians who don’t look like they’ve made it to Ozzfest recently. But as a political gesture, Screamers does what it sets out to do—it makes you share its anger. It’s one of the few recent call-to-arms documentaries that doesn’t choke on its own smugness.