FOUR MEN, ONE WOMAN; SHE’S BLONDE, while the guys sport variations of an unkempt jet-black mop. She, Lariyah Daniels, traverses the stage in a leather corset, while her band- mates assume their positions: guitarists riffing with their legs wide apart, drummer headbang- ing, everyone wearing an evil grin. Scenes of their gritty, reverb-filled performances are spliced with close-ups of two demure young ladies against the backdrop of Lake Michigan. This is the promotional video for The Last Kamikazis of Heavy Metal.
“We’re Hëssler, we’re from Chicago, and if you ever come visit, call us up and let’s get a drink!” an exhausted Igz Kincaid shouts into a microphone. From many musicians this would seem an empty promise. But for sisters Biliana and Marina Grozdanova, getting drinks with the “Hess Xpress” was just the beginning. This December they will pack up their gear and embark with the band on a two-week tour, filming shows from Chicago to California and back. This unique collaboration will be made possible thanks to the exceedingly popular crowd-funding project that is Kickstarter.
Marina, 22, and Biliana, 26, are no strangers to travel. Born in Bulgaria, they’ve since lived in Australia, Canada, Spain, and the US. They attended high school together in Spain, and Biliana went on to attend the Universidad Complutense of Madrid for audiovisual communication while Marina moved to the States to finish high school. During Biliana’s last year in Madrid, Marina took a gap year there before ultimately enrolling at the University of Chicago. The two ended up in the same city again when Biliana started a year-long Masters program at the UofC. That’s when their two-person film company, “El Jinete Films,” was born.
“We are inseparable, and our company name says it all. El jinete, in Spanish, means ‘rider’ or ‘horseman’—and this is what we have been doing all our lives, traveling and being adventurers,” Marina says of the name. And while Biliana has an educational background in film (she interned for Kartemquin Films and is now a member of the Chicago freelance com- munity), Marina insists that her lack of formal training does not put her at a disadvantage.
“You don’t have to learn it by the books to know you want to dedicate your life to it,” she explains. El Jinete’s first project, a documen- tary about the 2012 International Celtic Music Festival of Ortigueira, is currently in post-production.
The Grozdanova sisters befriended Hëssler after seeing them perform at the House of Blues when mutual friends introduced them to the leather-clad rockers. “People refer to Chicago as a really big city with really vast music scenes—which is all very, very true—but once you find the scene you want to be in you kind of see the same faces and the city starts to feel small, in a good way,” Marina says of the tight-knit community to which Hëssler and their contemporaries belong. Despite the spikes and chains and lyrics like “Head to toe, I’m soaked in sin; only death knows where I’ve been,” the members of Hëssler don’t seem to lack Midwestern charm—according to Marina, “it was a very natural friendship…they are amazingly true and honest.”
The Chicago-based quintet declares on their website that they are a “musical and visu- al onslaught created to ignite your soul and seduce your mind.” While they may lack the expensive production and complicated riffs of their heavy metal idols, they make up for it with the incredible energy they bring wherever they go, from small Chicago bars to Milwaukee’s famous Summerfest. Hëssler has shared the stage with legends like Skid Row and Lizzy Borden, living the dreams of aspiring metalheads everywhere. They released “Bad Blood,” their first EP, in April 2011 and have only been moving up from there—the December tour, their first, will immediately follow the release of their first full-length, independently-produced album.
The idea to film Last Kamikazis struck Marina and Biliana this past spring, after see- ing Hëssler open for Sebastian Bach at the Cubby Bear. “We just knew,” Marina says; the sisters sent the band a “formal letter” via Facebook, proposing a project in which they’d film shows and rehearsals, showcasing the young band and their lives as musicians. This idea was warmly accepted by Igz Kincaid and the rest of the band, and eventually evolved into a documentary of their upcoming tour. “As band on one side and filmmakers on the other, we met at a midpoint that would be mutually fruitful for all of us,” says Marina of the decision.
The sisters chose to use Kickstarter to fund the project based on the growing success of freelance artists and filmmakers on the site. Kickstarter allows backers from all over the world to contribute various amounts of money—in the Grozdanovas’ case, anywhere from $1 to $1000 or more—to a project and receive gifts, promotional materials, and more in return. For instance, in the case of Last Kamikazis, a donation of $10 gets the donor a personalized postcard from the road. And for ten donors of $250, Marina and Biliana will award a print of an original 1970’s Jimi Hendrix painting by their father Ronn Groz, a Bulgarian painter.
The Last Kamikazis of Heavy Metal is, in Marina and Biliana’s words, a “participatory rock doc”—a music documentary that allows for, and encourages, its backers to help shape the film. A donation of $25 gives supporters the opportunity to be a “location manager,” someone who helps the Grozdanova sisters find places to visit in every city on the tour. They will choose destinations to film from these suggestions and promise a copy of “THE ULTI- MATE TOUR SCRAPBOOK” to the maker of the most “out-of-this-world” recommendation. “Let’s break the barrier between filmmakers and film audiences,” Biliana says in their Kickstarter promotional video. If the $6,000 they’ve raised so far is any indication, there are plenty of people itching to get involved.
El Jinete Films hopes to launch The Last Kamikazis of Heavy Metal next spring, which will include submitting it to various film festi- vals. “But as the making of any film is a jour- ney,” Marina explains, “our journey with Hëssler does not end there.” They hope to join Hëssler on their first international tour in the summer of 2013.
“What makes us most nervous? I’ll direct- ly quote Biliana on this one,” Marina muses. “Not having enough outlets in the hotel room to plug in the cameras to offload footage and charge batteries.” In the meantime, though, the Last Kamikazis Kickstarter campaign continues through midnight on Monday, November 12th. Marina and Biliana will be using the El Jinete Films Facebook page to continuously update fans and supporters on the project as it progresses, especially once they’re on the road. Hopefully, now that Kickstarter has eased their transition into cross-country filmmaking, their most pressing concern will be the search for more outlets.