The 15th annual Durango Film Festival, “Focus on Film,” is about to take over Durango, with more than 110 films telling more than 110 different stories starting Wednesday.
One of those stories, “Metal From the Dirt,” is featured in Extreme Roots – Native Cinema Program. It’s a short film – 14 minutes long – that tells the story of heavy metal bands playing on the Navajo reservation.
Director Clarke Tolton, who worked on the film with “Everything Is Stories” and Revolver magazine, said “Metal From the Dirt” was a project that happened over the course of a few years. Initially, he said, he accompanied his friends Mike Martinez and Tyler Wray, who were working on a story about Duane “Chili” Yazzie for their podcast “Everything is Stories.” While the trio was in New Mexico and Arizona, Martinez had mentioned that there were some metal shows going on, so they went and checked those out, shooting photos and hanging out with some of the guys there. It’s the podcast’s policy to bring a photographer along with them on projects to document everything, which is why Tolton went on the trip, he said.
A couple of years passed, he said, and nothing came of the metal story, so he posted some of his photos online and was contacted by metal and hard rock magazine Revolver, which wanted to publish the pictures of the black metal photos that had been taken on the trip. And, Tolton said, the magazine asked him if he’d be interested in going back to Arizona and New Mexico for more material.
“That started the ball rolling – Mike and Tyler got in touch with all the bands. So we went back out there and shot for a week, just crisscrossing – I think we drove a thousand miles – we would meet up with one band, and they would say, ‘You’ve got to meet my friend over here,’ and we’d go meet up with these other guys,” Tolton said. “It basically all centered around this band I Dont Konform. They put on a show just for us and got their friends together. And we just went around and interviewed people across all generations, from teenagers to guys that used to play in the ’70s and ’80s.”
I Dont Konform is based in Window Rock, Arizona, and another band – black/death metal band Mutilated Tyrant from Ganado, Arizona – is featured in the film, too.
In the film, the bands talk about how because the reservation is so large and there are virtually no venues, there’s a do-it-yourself spirit that prevails – bands will set up just abut anywhere to play.
“There’s a lot of heavy metal bands on the Navajo reservation, and for some reason, this music, this subculture, seems to permeate with the youth,” I Dont Konform’s manager Jerold Cecil said in the film. “What rez metal is, is ‘rez’ is an inside word for ‘reservation.’ Our brand of metal is different than anybody else, and whether you grew up with it, or, like myself, sort of tagged along with it and made it your own, it’s blowing up.”
And despite the fact that “Metal from the Dirt” clocks in at a mere 14 minutes, the message it conveys is much bigger, Tolton said.
“We thought it was important to get it out because it’s not something that’s not in the public, it’s not in the mainstream, and that they’re, in their lyrics and in their music, they’re speaking to their cultural heritage, and it’s a voice that’s not heard,” he said.