Film Goes Beyond Rock-hard Surface

2004 Maryland Film Festival

Special Pullout Guide

May 06, 2004|By Linda Schubert | Linda Schubert,Sun Staff

It used to be that the term "film festival" conjured visions of quirky little art films shot on a shoestring budget -- films that had little or no chance of ever being screened for a mainstream audience. They were thought-provoking pieces that contained little or no action and usually delved deep into the mysteries of human nature and emotion.

Films about heavy metal bands need not apply -- until now.

This weekend's Maryland Film Festival will feature the Baltimore debut of Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, a documentary that follows the most successful heavy metal band in history into the studio as the members record their most recent album, St. Anger.

But the gap between art film and Monster isn't as wide as one might think.

Documentary filmmakers Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger -- who will be at Saturday's screening -- were given an all-access pass to the band, which was in the middle of a rock 'n' roll meltdown. The resulting film chronicles the departure of longtime bassist Jason Newsted, the remaining members' group therapy sessions, front man James Hetfield's sudden entrance into rehab, the battle with Napster, the band's completion of St. Anger (which went on to chart at No. 1 in 30 countries) and the addition of new bassist Robert Trujillo.

This is not a Bands Gone Wild movie of backstage debauchery and drunken excess.

It's a wide-open look at the relationships between guys who have been together for more than 20 years, but who discover that they don't know each other as well as they thought. To their credit, Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich and guitarist Kirk Hammett did not shy away from letting the world see the band at its most vulnerable, from petty squabbling to grappling with the larger issues of addiction and the monster that the Metallica machine has become. Even former Metallica guitarist Dave Mustaine gets in on the soul-baring during a session with Ulrich.

"I worried that Metallica fans would reject the film, seeing their idols in a very human way," said filmmaker Sinofsky by phone from New York last week. "Nobody wants to see Superman on a couch talking to an analyst.

"A lot of fans feel like the band saved them as teen-agers through their music," he said. "When [the fans] saw the film, they embraced them even tighter."

There are plenty of light moments and glimpses into the band's personal lives that showcase their wit, intelligence and ability to cut through music-industry rigmarole -- such as their collective rebellion when asked to record some cheesy ads for a radio conglomerate.

Monster debuted in January at the Sundance Film Festival to a sold-out show and rave reviews from critics -- showing just how much film festivals have changed, embracing movies of all genres and budgets.

"Anyone in indie films knows that Sundance is a great place to launch a film and sell a film," Sinofsky said. He and Berlinger got their indie street cred with award-winning documentaries such as Brother's Keeper and Paradise Lost.

"We weren't in competition [at Sundance], which was fine," Sinofsky said. "We're already known in the community. Once you've gotten to a certain point, let the other guy have a chance to do it."

Sinofsky and Berlinger have been on the road for the past few months promoting the film, which has also been screened at film festivals in Dallas, Nashville and Boston. Monster was also shown at the recent South by Southwest music showcase in Austin, Texas. Future screening sites include Sydney, Maui, London and Athens.

Monster will be released in theaters over the summer, with the DVD scheduled for February.

"Each festival brings out a slightly different audience," Sinofsky said. At the San Francisco Film Festival, of the 1,200 people at the sold-out show, "about 75 percent were festival-goers and 25 percent were T-shirt-clad 'Metallica army' fans.

"It's tough getting regular people who cringe at the name Metallica to see the film," he said. "But it's about regular people." Despite having money, "you still can't wish away a problem with your wife or your child."

For both Sinofsky and Berlinger, the trip to Baltimore will bring them to familiar stomping grounds.

Berlinger directed an episode of Homicide: Life on the Street and was a producer for the AMC show Hollywood High, which featured interviews with movie industry insiders, including John Waters.

Sinofsky directed Hollywood High, and his son is a student at the Johns Hopkins University.

"Baltimore's been a pretty good film market that's treated us well in the past," he said. "It's always supported us in the past. It's very exciting to go where there's an audience for our film."

"Metallica: Some Kind of Monster" will be screened at 9:30 p.m. Saturday at the Charles Theatre.

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