Queensland College of Art alumnus Travis Beard will premiere his directorial debut in Brisbane this weekend – a powerful feature documentary about Afghanistan’s first heavy metal band.
Travis graduated from Griffith University with a Bachelor of Photography in 1998, majoring in photojournalism. He spent the next decade travelling the world, shooting for news agencies including Al Jazeera, BBC, CNN and the ABC.
He first visited Afghanistan in the wake of September 11, 2001, documenting the US military intervention, retreat of the Taliban and the resulting waves of displaced people.
“Despite the fact that the country has been a warzone for the past 40 years, it is a beautiful place and intoxicating,” he said.
“The landscapes are stunning and the culture is fascinating.
“I developed what they call the Afghan bug, and I couldn’t wait to get back,” he said.
In 2006, Travis moved to Kabul, taking up a volunteer position at Afghanistan’s first media school. He set to work engaging young people in the city – introducing everything from skateboarding to street art to the Afghan capital.
Travis’ most audacious project was the country’s first arts festival in 35 years – Sound Central Festival, which ran between 2011 – 2013. The festival was funded by 10 different embassy grants and incorporated dance, painting, graffiti, poetry, fashion, female handicrafts and music.
“Kabul was a naked canvas, there were so many young people who were eager to learn and express themselves,” he said.
A keen musician himself, Travis offered practice space to a group of teenagers who had formed the country’s first metal band, District Unknown.
Over the next five years, Travis recorded their journey, as they struggled to make music against a backdrop of blackouts, bombings and the threat of retribution from the Taliban.
The resulting film, Rockabul, had its Australian premiere last year at Sydney Film Festival, where it was nominated for Best Australian Documentary. The film has since screened at more than 30 film festivals around the world.
It is now receiving a limited theatrical release, and will screen at New Farm Cinemas on 1 June, followed by a Q&A hosted by Queensland College Adjunct Senior Lecturer in Photography Earle Bridger.
“It’s really a film about boys becoming men, through music,” he said.
“I wanted to show a part of Afghan culture and life that the audience wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to see – a side of life there that is not often portrayed in the Western media.
“I hope the film captures what it’s like being a local in a war-torn country and trying to achieve your passion – for these guys it was music.”
All of the band members have since fled Afghanistan, and now live in Australia, the US and UK.
“The film has helped ensure they have safe futures and can work towards the next chapter of their lives,” he said.
“Most of them want to go back to Afghanistan to help rebuild the country, but the timing isn’t right – it is still too dangerous for them.”
“I moved from Melbourne up to Brisbane to study photography at the QCA, and I learned a lot about telling stories through images – skills that I still use in photography and filmmaking,” he said.
“During my studies, we were still working with analogue cameras and developing our images in the dark room – I think that old-school training has stood me in good stead.
“I stayed in touch with Earl Bridger, who is hosting my screening this weekend in Brisbane, and there are a whole bunch of students from my year at the QCA who are coming along to see the film.”
Travis is working on a sequel, The Afghan Bug, a documentary that will look at the war machine in Afghanistan over the past two decades. He is also finishing his first book, The Bullet is Faster than the Bike, which documents his travels in Afghanistan by motorcycle.
Rockabul will screen at New Farm Cinema on Saturday 1 June at 4pm, followed by a Q&A with Travis Beard.
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/rockabulthefilm.