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A noble attempt to understand genocide

Serj Tankian (above, with his grandfather) plays in System of a Down. Its members are grandchildren of genocide survivors. (MG2 Productions)

In 90 minutes, Carla Garapedian's documentary "Screamers" tries to get a lot done -- too much, in fact. The movie's principal goals are to decry the Armenian genocide in 1915 at the hands of the Turks and to wrestle with the enduring controversy over whether the slaughter constitutes genocide. Garapedian also holes up with the intelligent hard-rock outfit System of a Down , four affable and earnest Armenian-American guys who, along with millions of other people, want the 1915 massacre, in which a million and a half Armenians died, ruled genocide once and for all.

But "Screamers" doesn't stop there. Randomly inserted amid chunks of time on the System of a Down tour bus and footage of the band onstage are interviews with Armenian survivors. Garapedian talks to Hrant Dink , the Armenian-Turkish journalist who was slain last month and whose assassination, as awful as it was, might have begun a healing process between Turkey and Armenians. There is footage from a congressional hearing last year that produced a resolution to recognize the events of 1915 as genocide. President Bush hasn't recognized the resolution, the prevailing hypothesis being that the United States doesn't want to anger Turkey. We need the air bases.

This film has provocations to spare; it just hasn't been made provocatively. It's a mess, actually. Most of the content is inarguable, but Garapedian's handling of it leaves much to be desired. Several subjects compete for our attention, and since the filmmaker can't seem to decide how best to arrange them, the parsing is left to us. Garapedian, an Armenian-American from Los Angeles, has an extensive international broadcast journalism background, but she has a hard time clearly situating the Armenian genocide within the larger political-moral problem of genocide itself.

Concert footage of System of a Down performing, say, its half-melodic, half-infuriated, and dangerously good anti war song, "B.Y.O.B.," aren't easily wed with impassioned park-bench explanations of genocide from journalist Samantha Power. Atom Egoyan's 2002 historical drama about the genocide, "Ararat," was a similarly noble blur.

The way "Screamers" is staged, a lot of the film's material feels like padding, rather than a collection of scenes gathering toward a climactic conclusion. The sheer importance and personal urgency of the material seems to have gotten the better of the filmmaking. Or maybe "Screamers" is intended to serve a purely tutorial end. That might meet an obvious, urgent political need, but it doesn't do the film's many fascinating strands any lasting favors.

Wesley Morris can be reached at For more on movies, go to