Truth to Power
by George Wolf
Serj Tankian is a passionate guy.
As frontman for System of a Down (and as a solo artist), he’s passionate about music. As an American of Armenian descent, he’s passionate about America’s foreign policy – specifically the U.S. stance on recognizing the Armenian genocide of 1915.
In Truth to Power, director Garin Hovannisian not only gets us closer to a charismatic and multi-talented performer, but he also tackles the sometimes thorny relationship between art and activism.
For Tankian, shutting up and singing is a ridiculous notion. And though he freely admits he seldom knows what he’s going to say before an onstage rant, Tankian’s social consciousness only increases when the lights come up.
Hovannisian gives us a satisfactory trip through Tankian’s life story and the forming of SOAD with three other Armenian-Americans, then brings us along as the band plays its first Armenian show in 2015. Tankian especially is regarded as a national hero, and the intimate moments where we see how deeply this treatment touches him are among the film’s strongest.
But the broader focus is on Tankian’s push for Turkey to admit to the Armenian genocide, as well as his inspirational role in the Armenian revolution of 2018. And though the film makes an often powerful case for art’s ability to affect change, it ignores a very obvious conflict.
In the last few years, SOAD drummer John Dolmayan has been an outspoken supporter of Donald Trump and various hard right political postures. Though we hear Tankian worry about the rise of such views, Hovannisian never broaches the subject of how the band members co-exist.
Even if the bulk of the film was completed before Dolmayan spoke out, the somewhat slight running time suggests an epilogue would only add relevant context to the entire conversation.
Without it, there’s a pretty major question just sitting there unanswered, and Truth to Power – despite its commendable passion – feels incomplete.