‘Death’ at C!

By Allan I. Ross

Acclaimed documentary with Lansing ties gets local premiere tonight

There doesn’t seem to be much of a cultural overlap between audiences that appreciate thoughtful foreign language documentaries and those who rock out to death metal. But for anyone caught in that sliver of a Venn diagram set, “Death Metal Angola” is quite possibly the piece of head banging, poignant filmmaking you’ve been waiting for all your life.

Eaton Rapids native Travis Burgess served as one of the film’s producers. Burgess, 27, will introduce “Death Metal Angola” tonight at Studio C! in Okemos and facilitate a talkback after the screening. This is the first feature documentary for the New Jersey-based production company for which Burgess has worked the last two years. He said it shows a cathartic side to the extreme rock subgenre that no one expected.

“You get this idea about death metal bands — what do they really have to scream about?” Burgess said. “This movie shows these African kids who’ve lived through genocide, who’ve had their homes bombed and their entire families killed. They’ve seen death and they’re screaming about it. It’s a way for them to process these raw emotions.”

The film’s storyline follows the formation of what Burgess called the “African Woodstock of death metal music” in the central Angolan city of Huambo. The dialogue is in Portuguese with English subtitles. Burgess said he spent six weeks living with one of the central characters, orphanage owner Sonia Ferreira.

“She’s a wonderful, saintly woman,” Burgess said. “She takes care of 57 boys living in a bombed out milk factory. It’s a wonderful story.”

How “Death Metal Angola” brought Burgess back to mid-Michigan is a story all its own: Burgess met Studio C! general manager Chad Wozniak at East Lansing’s Peanut Barrel when he was in town for Thanksgiving last November; Wozniak suggested that Burgess bring the film to the East Lansing Film Series, which opens Friday (see details below).

“Death Metal Angola” debuted in Dubai in December 2012, but despite good buzz (including a rave review from the Huffington Post, which said the “must-watch” film is destined to be a cult classic), it has yet to pick up a wide distribution deal.

“It’s been to over 35 festivals where it’s won several awards, including top jury prize at one,” Burgess said. “It’s already done more than we expected. People have responded very well to it.”

Maybe that death metal/indie film overlap set is more significant than we give it credit for.

“Angola Death Metal”

Screening/talkback with Travis Burgess 7 p.m. today Studio C! 1999 Central Park Drive, Okemos (517) 393-7469, celebrationcinema.com/indie

East Lansing Film Series — January/February

Studio C! general manager Chad Wozniak said the year-old East Lansing Film Series has been connecting well with Lansing-area audiences.

“This isn’t really a matinee community, but (the East Lansing Film Series) has seen a dramatic increase in traffic before 5 p.m.,” Wozniak said. He said Oscar’s Bisro, the theater’s restaurant, has done so well that parent company Celebration! Cinema opened a second location near Kalamazoo.

“This had never been done so we didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “But management is happy and the public seems happy. We’re exceeding all expectations.” The East Lansing Film Series runs Jan.

“The Crash Reel” (NR, 108 min.) U.S. champion snowboarder Kevin Pearce suffered massive head trauma in a 2009 accident in Park City, Utah, while training for the 2010 Winter Olympics. During his rehabilitation, he made the decision to return to the sport that almost killed him.

This illuminating documentary uses years of vérité footage to explore the mindset of an extreme athlete.

“Detroit Unleaded” (PG-13, 83 min.) This romantic comedy, set in a Detroit gas station, delves into issues of family relationships, cultural identity and love. Lebanese- American filmmaker Rola Nashef´s feature debut is expanded from a short film shown at 2007 East Lansing Film Festival, drawing comparisons to breakthrough films “Clerks” and “Do the Right Thing.”

“The Hunt” (R, 115 min., in Danish with English subtitles) This mesmerizing import follows a lonely teacher whose life takes a dark turn after an innocent little lie. Starring the electrifying Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen (NBC’s “Hannibal,” “Casino Royale”).

“Inequality for All” (PG, 89 minutes) An engrossing and enraging documentary about Secretary of Labor-turned-Berkeley Professor Robert Reich’s dissection on the erosion of middle class America. Directed by MSU grad Jacob Kornbluth, “Inequality” examines the causes and consequences of the country’s widening income gap and the need to regain the middle class to stabilize our economy.

“In a World … ” (R, 107 min.) Written, directed and starring Lake Bell (“Children’s Hospital”), this off kilter romantic comedy revolves around a struggling vocal coach who strikes it big in the cutthroat world of movie trailer voiceovers, only to find herself in direct competition with the industry´s reigning king: Her father.

“Short Term 12” (R, 96 min.) This searing drama topped many critics’ best-of lists for 2013. The story is told through the perspective of a young woman, who navigates the trials of adulthood as she works in a home for at-risk teenagers.