Carla Garapedian's documentary Screamers contains vital information about the Armenian genocide of 1915, the 20th-century genocides that followed, and the tricky political problem of acknowledging genocide without committing resources to combat it. Screamers features some good music, too, provided by blockbuster nü-metal band System Of A Down, which has made its Armenian heritage the centerpiece of several incendiary political songs. But Garapedian doesn't blend the concert footage with the polemic particularly skillfully. As one more montage of human butchery fades into one more bombastic arena performance, it's hard to figure out how either type of segment is helping the other.
Screamers' most glaring problem is the one that fells too many political documentaries: a dull unanimity of voices. Garapedian and her interviewees point out the dubious tactics that the Turkish government has employed to bury all historical record of the Armenian genocide—including sneaking a "denial featurette" onto a free tourism DVD—and they raise legitimate questions about the ways governments avoid dealing with genocide by calling it "an act of war." But nearly everyone belabors the point that one unpunished genocide begets another, and nearly everyone is publicly gung-ho about System Of A Down's engagement with the subject, which includes using victims' faces as stage props and turning complicated anti-war arguments into slogans. Are there no doubters? Not of the Armenian genocide—no one needs to hear that—but of the band's handling of it?
Screamers' contradictions and compromises become apparent in the first five minutes, when a shot of historian Samantha Power explaining that a "screamer" is someone whose "defenses and alibis melt away and they actually process what a genocide is," is followed by a shot of two System Of A Down fans saying how excited they are to go to a concert where "we're probably going to show our boobs." Obviously, Garapedian means to hail System Of A Down for hipping metal fans to harsh realities. But when Serj Tankian yells, "It's time to make the Turkish government pay for their fucking crimes," and his audience whoops, it's hard to believe Tankian wouldn't have gotten the exact same reaction if he'd put any country's name into that sentence. The band is sincere, and many of its followers are just as sincere, but there's always a danger that too much "screaming" can turn a meaningful statement into an inarticulate din.