In a scene from a new documentary, directed by Colin Hanks, about his friends in the Eagles Of Death Metal rock band and the Paris terror attack of November 13, 2015, the band’s front-man Jesse Hughes makes clear that he will be marked by that night forever. “I take it as a holy charge, this duty of leadership that” has fallen to him, says Hughes, in a startling close-up.
His face is rough and bearded, but his voice, recorded long after the murderous attack at Le Bataclan Theatre, struggles through near-sobs. What he wants, says Hughes, is partly for rock and roll to become what it was: A binding force, for joy and elevation. More, he hopes to communicate something that came home during the attack, though he had first learned it as a kid in Palm Desert, when he was bullied by stronger types who once dumped him into a pool at a party, and kept him there. “Next time, stand up for yourself,” he says of the life-lesson. “Make sure you’re never the weakest one.”
Those scenes promise something more than an ordinary rock documentary when Hanks finally begins to show the film in coming months. Titled Eagles Of Death Metal: Nos Amis (Our Friends), the movie is set to air on HBO next February, and will also have a theatrical release—at least enough to qualify it for the 2018 Oscars. Financed by Live Nation, it is the first project from that company’s Live Nation Productions film unit.
This is Hanks’ second documentary—the first was All Things Must Pass: The Rise And Fall Of Tower Records, released by Gravitas Ventures last year. Eagles Of Death Metal: Nos Amis came together in a rush, as Hanks and his producing partner Sean Stuart realized there might be a cinematic moment in the band’s post-attack return to Paris on what was called the Nos Amis Tour last February. Live Nation quickly signed off on funding. But Hanks, Stuart and friends had just weeks to prep the movie, after spending, by their count, seven years on All Things Must Pass.
“How do you go on with your life with something like that?” said Hanks, speaking of the question he hoped to address with the film. Speaking at his office in Santa Monica on Tuesday, he described the movie as an examination of the first steps in a second life—in this case, the life of a band and its fans, after a terror assault in which 89 people, including one of the band’s crew, were killed.
Hanks said that the film is not political; but neither, he said, does it avoid the controversy that surrounded Hughes, who in post-attack interviews voiced suspicion that some of the Bataclan’s security staff may have been involved with the terror plot, and that Western society enabled it by showing the weakness he now counsels against. “We don’t walk around it,” Hanks said of his film’s approach to the conflict around Hughes.
But, said Hanks, the film dwells more on the relationship between Hughes and sometime band member Josh Homme. A friend from youth, Homme saved Hughes from the pool that night in Palm Desert. He later joined him in forming Eagles Of Death Metal, a slightly tongue-in-cheek cult band that is not really a metal group, but something sui generis.
Homme, who performs in several bands, was not at the Bataclan on the night of the attack. Hanks, a music fan who had known both Homme and Hughes for a decade, was on the set of Life In Pieces when he heard news of it. Homme, Hughes and Hanks afterward agreed that a film might best reach hearts and minds with a message not so much about terror, as about the strength needed to overcome it. Harder than interviewing the band, noted Hanks, were his sessions with fans who survived the onslaught.
The film itself, he said, is presented in three parts. The first introduces the group to the many viewers who won’t know their music, or might be misled by their arch, self-deprecating name. The second is about November 13, 2015, with footage of the band, and some sound from that night, but without images of the many horrible deaths. The third joins the band for its European return tour.
“It’s about that first step in trying to put life back together,” said Hanks.