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'Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis' tackles the emotional aftermath of terrorism

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Colin Hanks' HBO documentary follows the Eagles of Death Metal in the months that followed the November 2015 attacks in Paris, when 89 people were killed at the band's concert.

The Eagles of Death Metal were performing at a Paris venue in November of 2015 for an audience of about 1,500 when three men open fired on the crowd.

Eighty-nine were killed in the massacre at the Bataclan theater, which was one of five targets in the attacks.

In the months that followed, actor and filmmaker Colin Hanks began making a documentary about the aftermath of the attack, eventually following the band back to Paris for an emotional concert.

Hanks, a longtime friend of the Eagles of Death Metal, also uses the documentary to tell the band's origin story. It was started by frontman Jesse Hughes and drummer Joshua Homme, who have been close friends since they were teenagers. Though Homme was not in Paris on the night of the attacks, he's shown to have a significant role in Hughes' emotional recovery.

The Frame's John Horn met up with Hanks, Hughes and Homme at the band's recording studio to hear more about the making of the film and the decision not to include controversial statements made by Hughes in the wake of the attack.

Interview Highlights

On the decision not to include graphic images in the film:

Hanks: It was a very conscious effort not to show a bunch of the footage that was on repeat ad nauseam in the weeks after the attack. I wanted to handle that differently because I find that so much of that stuff just desensitizes people and it clouds people's memories. I didn't really quite know how to explain it. I had a lot of conversations with my editor about it. 

Halfway though editing, I was in New York. I was staying at a hotel that was just down the street from the September 11th museum. And I sort of figured, Well, I'm never really going to want to go to the museum and it's right there, so I should go. And I went and I was amazed at how much I recognized by sight or by sound and how it instantly made me uncomfortable. But the moments that were the most powerful, the moments that made me weep in public, were the little things. The descriptions that people had. The stories, the connections, the looks that different people gave each other before going into horror. Those things were so incredibly emotional that I figured that if I want to convey the most by showing the least, that that would be the proper way to do it. 

On the experience of watching the finished documentary:

Homme: It's extremely difficult for me to watch. The helplessness of [me] being an ocean, a world away ... it was very difficult for me to even want to be part of [the film]. Because essentially my side of it was on the phone. Who cares? But to witness people so close, who you have so much love for, go through something and the best you can do is reach for a box of tissues or a glass of water — that helplessness sucks. But it's a micro amount compared to being there. There's a bizarre struggle for an understanding which is really an impossible concept to understand why. That's too big for me.

Hughes: It took me many, many tries [to watch the documentary]. Seeing our fans, seeing the rock and rollers was incredibly helpful to me. I think everyone was trying to do the right thing. Everyone who participated — from the hotel owner who received us at the hotel to every crew man at the Olympia [theater]. Every person wanted to help and I've never really experienced that before. Watching the movie, I was able to look at things like that, but I still haven't been able to watch the whole thing from beginning to end. Because you see what happened reflected off of everyone's face who was there. The carnage and the horror of it is absolutely relayed and depicted. I don't feel anything different when I watch the film that I haven't been feeling the whole time. But I am able to see how supported I was and how lucky, how really lucky I am. Because I could have had any other group of friends that wouldn't have been as wonderful as mine. It could have gone a different way for me. It could have gone a different way for all of us. We're very lucky.

On the inclusion of politics in the film:

Hanks: Really our job there was to document when they landed in Paris and when they left Paris. That was really our original goal, was to just be there. And it just so happened that that interview [with Hughes] was taking place and we filmed the whole thing. And then the next day I saw little snippets of that interview go out around the world in not quite the way that it really went down. Really I felt like it was an important moment to show in its entirety because the interviewer brings it up and Jesse very eloquently speaks his mind. We had some discussions as to whether or not we should include that. Three other terrorist attacks had happened during that time. The very first time I screened the movie was the day after the terrorist attack in Orlando. And everyone we showed the movie to — there was a little bit of apprehension as to if they would bring that up — and everyone who saw it said, That makes sense. I can understand that man's point of view. And I felt that that was important.

On the controversial statements made by Hughes after the attack, and the decision not to include them in the film:

Hughes: I didn't say anything about Muslims. I was speaking about Islam. There is a difference. I have Muslim friends. I love people. I don't give a rat's ass. That was right after that attack. I really didn't know I was being interviewed. I thought I was meeting someone on Skype, to be honest with you. So I was speaking as though I was in the backstage in my own little world without an audience. And it was really the process of going through an attack like that and the feelings you feel, they come up. They bubble up and then you check them. You don't let them go to the place that they want to go inherently. I think that that was a slice of my healing process that was not appropriate to have been stated at all. I should never have said any of that s--- ... I love people. We had Muslim fans coming to every show after the attack to make a point of it. That was beautiful. So I don't even really remember what I said in that interview, to be honest with you.

Horn: I could read it to you.

Hughes: I would rather you not. Because it's not how I feel.

Hanks: That was weeks after the return to Paris. And so there was no way to include that in the film and have it make sense story-wise. You can't just address something that happens weeks later. There was no way we could put that in the film, and there's no reason for it to be in the film. Because really, the film is about how everyone collectively tries to move on with their life and how difficult that is. A lot of it isn't pretty and a lot of it happens when we weren't there, when we weren't filming. Really we wanted to make the film be a time capsule of everyone's good intentions going back to that Olympia show and everybody collectively trying to pick themselves up.

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