Jesse Hughes was visibly nervous, fearful even, frantically packing to go to Paris. The lead singer and co-founder of the Southern California-based band Eagles of Death Metal was going back to Paris for the first time since the horrendous night of Nov. 13, 2015, when three heavily armed ISIS terrorists burst into a nightclub during the band’s set and murdered 89 people.
That’s how a riveting new feature documentary, “Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis (Our Friends),” opens — and then proceeds to reveal the backstory of the band and what happened that horrible night. The Bataclan attack was one of five others coordinated across Paris that took a total of 130 lives, and shocked the world.
Full disclosure: I have very deep, yet secondhand connections to the tragedy at the Bataclan. The brother of a woman I’ve known for about a decade was killed that night. Fabrice Dubois, a senior advertising copywriter at Publicis Conseil in Paris, was at the venue with some friends when he was gunned down by the terrorists.
Another very dear friend of mine, Ashmi Elizabeth Dang, had flown from New York to be in Paris for the U2 show that was scheduled the next night and got caught up in the chaos and fear that tore through the City of Light. After it was clear that she was safe, I said to her, “You are probably one of the only people in the world who have been through both 9/11 and Paris.” She sadly acknowledged that I was one of only two people who recognized that tragic fact. (The other was her sister.)
In a show of strength and resilience, she then went back to Paris for the rescheduled U2 show on Dec. 6 at the AccorHotels Arena a few miles from the Bataclan — as did Eagles of Death Metal, who got an incredibly huge and heartfelt reception upon taking the stage with the Irish band.
But the documentary, directed by Colin Hanks, focuses on EODM’s second return to Paris for its own moment of triumph, a return performance three months after the deadly attack, to finish what they started.
Hanks is a longtime friend of Hughes and Josh Homme, the other founder of Eagles of Death Metal, who also performs with Queens of the Stone Age.
But when Hanks approached them about making a documentary about their traumatic experience in Paris, Homme initially dissuaded him. It wasn’t about Hanks’ filmmaking abilities — he had directed a previous music-based documentary on the history and ultimate demise of Tower Records, 2015’s “All Things Must Pass” — it was that Homme told him that if he had the luxury of staying away from anything involving the attack, he should.
Yet Hanks was able to convince the band that they could all make something positive out of a horrible situation, but only if they were completely willing to open themselves up and relive a horrendous chapter in their lives — with cameras in their faces during the process.
The film premiered at the Palm Springs International Film Festival last month and HBO recently screened it in Hollywood, followed by a life-affirming, rock ‘til you drop performance by EODM at the Avalon.
Hanks said at the time that although on the surface the film appears to be focused on dealing with a horrible event, it is a story about friendship and understanding. It pulls back the curtain on the long relationship between Hughes and Homme, Palm Desert kids whose relationship goes back decades to their school days.
But even as it chronicles coping with the inevitable survivor’s guilt and trauma, “Nos Amis” leaves out the fact that the band’s merchandise manager, Nick Alexander, was among the fatalities. It also omits controversial comments Hughes later made about the apparent lack of security at the Bataclan that enabled three gunmen with assault rifles shouting “Allahu Akbar” to enter a venue filled with 1,500 people.
What remains is an incredibly moving tale of survival which includes several people in the audience on Nov. 13 who play a crucial part in the story — becoming surrogates for the audience, which is left feeling with them the powerful but mixed emotions of joy and despair, and the enduring spirit of rock ‘n roll.
(Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis” airs Feb. 13 on HBO at 10 p.m. ET/PT)