The agony and the ecstasy

Leigh Brooks on Life Of Agony and documentary The Sound Of Scars

by Jennie Kermode

Mina Caputo in The Sound Of Scars
Mina Caputo in The Sound Of Scars Photo: courtesy of Justin Cook PR

One of the most powerful films screened at this year's BFI Flare, Leigh Brooks' documentary The Sound Of Scars tell the inside story of alternative metal band Life Of Agony, singer Mina Caputo's very public gender transition and a generational struggle to find new ways of processing trauma. It's a film which will resonate far beyond its core audience and which highlights Leigh, who previously made a documentary on Terrorvision, as a considerable talent.

Life Of Agony
Life Of Agony Photo: courtesy of Justin Cook PR

"Life Of Agony have been in my top ten go to bands for the last 27 years. I first saw them live in the Astoria 2 (London) and was always drawn to their emotionally charged records and the angst that Mina sang with. In 2016 I had tickets to see them in Camden and sent my showreel to Alan in case they needed any filming done. Six or so music videos later we all became best friends," he says. "Alan approached me to make the doc after watching Godfathers Of Hardcore, the amazing documentary from Ian McFarland. I jumped at the chance but I admit I was unsure and wary of telling Mina’s story.

"Pleased to say no one we approached to be in the film turned us down. We knew that the only way to tell this story was to lay it all out, it felt like therapy for us all, we collectively healed and as the film matured I think we all did in a way."

He went into the trans aspect of the story totally cold, he says, not watching or referencing anything about it beforehand in case it confused the process.

"Mina’s story is hers alone and that experience is completely unique. I was led by what Mina was comfortable with and that came through. People do make mistakes with pronouns and we totally explored that side too."

In the moment
In the moment Photo: courtesy of Justin Cook PR

Did he see Mina's transition as a useful jumping-off point from which to explore themes around the performance of masculinity?

"I think that came naturally," he says. "it was an obvious hook to explore and the deeper we got into the filmmaking process, it really came through. Toxic masculinity and vulnerable masculinity are extremely entwined, Mina's transition is totally relatable and makes complete sense to people that have no understanding (myself included at the time) of the subject."

There's a lot of talk about past drug use and self-destructive behaviour in the film. Was he conscious of not wanting to sensationalise this?

"These are sensitive stories and should be handled accordingly, Mina lost her mother and father whilst almost succumbing to similar addictions herself. I think the needle scene with Mina is very poignant and really drives home that connection between herself and her parents. We thought about the graphic description of her father's death and if we went too far there, but this is what happened so we chose not to sanitise it at all."

The film explores the potentially cathartic aspects of metal, and I ask him if he thinks that outsiders tend to miss those.

Domestic life
Domestic life Photo: courtesy of Justin Cook PR

"Being a man myself brought up in the same hardcore and metal scene but very much in tune with my emotions gave me the perfect outlet to let go and get rid of a lot of angst I was experiencing at the time. It’s like anything, preconceptions are just those and usually have nothing to do with reality.

"The LOA fans are amazing and my friends. I spent most of the gig time in the pit filming, getting pushed, shoved to the floor and generally being one of them whilst trying to film and not hurt anyone with the camera. I even convinced Alan and Joey to get in the pit for one of their music videos, Scars."

Were there technical challenges involved in making a film which mingles live performance and interviews in domestic settings?

"No technical challenges aside from money! I financed the film pretty much on my own. We needed to do one last shoot (which were all family interviews and the Christmas scene) and [Richard] Lynch ( DOP) actually stumped up for that one. In fact the main shoot crew was just Lynch and me, handling the whole production, drone, sound, A and B cam, everything.

"I never thought we would be interviewing the family and that has obviously made the film what it is."

In the crowd
In the crowd Photo: courtesy of Justin Cook PR

He's thrilled to have had it screened at Flare. "To be invited was incredible, to see it on the big screen and be accepted into the festival on its merits alone was wonderful. Having my best friends and family there was an experience I will never forget. My only regret was my wife Sherry couldn’t make it as she was looking after our daughter Maggie."

The good news for fans of the film is that Leigh has another music documentary on the way already.

"Finishing up a documentary on Nickelback that will be out this year. In fact Ryan Peake from the band helped get the film over the line to help with music licensing, as well as Ben Jones who is the main Producer on Nickelback. Both bands were on the label Roadrunner so it’s quite ironic there is a new connection there!"

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