News Column

Waynesboro born filmmaker generates buzz with new movie

September 2, 2013


Sept. 02--The title may be confusing, forcing questions as to what the film is about. But the documentary "A Band Called Death," produced and co-directed by Waynesboro-born Jeff Howlett, is about two simple things: family and music.

Howlett, 43, is a resident of Rock Hill, S.C. He works as an information technology professional in Charlotte, N.C., while also producing and directing. Along with co-director Mark Covino, Howlett created a documentary about three Detroit teenage brothers in the early 1970s that formed a protopunk band, chronicling a fairy-tale journey of what happened to the band three decades later when a demo tape from 1974 made its way out of the attic and into the hands of a younger generation. Death is often credited as the first black punk band, and at times, the first punk band in general. Now the three brothers; Dannis, Bobby and David Hackney are being looked at for the first time as rock music pioneers. With several options to sign record deals if they would change their name, the brothers decided against it, hoping to 'keep their identity.'

The idea for the documentary came during Howlett's time as a college student in Vermont.

"I met them about 20 years ago when they were in a reggae band," Howlett said. "I was in a hard rock band at the time and played a festival with them in Vermont. I just became a friend of the family."

Howlett didn't realize that the reggae band the brothers were in, Lambsbread, had another band, one that was little known, called Death.

He discovered the band's history just five years ago and it took off from there.

The documentary took four years to produce and was released in select theaters on June 28.

"I found out about that in 2008 and started shooting the documentary in 2009," Howlett said. "The more we got into it, the more it was about family, how close they were as a family, and that is what the film is about, the love for family."

The documentary, which featured Waynesboro-born Sam Retzer as a composer, has received positive reviews, receiving a 96 out of 100 rating on film review site Rotten Tomatoes.

"It's been great," Howlett said. "I'm just amazed where we sort of started and where we landed. It's building."

Another outlet also thinks it's great, and that is renowned late film critic Roger Ebert's website. A review written by Sheila O'Malley praised the production.

"'A Band Called Death' is a story of the burgeoning punk rock scene, of the exploding [do it yourself] energy in the 1970s, but it is also a sweet and touching family story," she wrote in an article published July 1. "The filmmakers keep it simple, using floating black-and-white photos of the brothers jamming with their instruments, or, hauntingly, walking through a covered bridge in Vermont. Home movies of the boys playing in an upstairs room at their parents' house shiver with the excitement of their raw energy and self-belief."

On Saturday, Howlett participated in a question and answer session after a showing of the movie at The Alamo Draft House in Winchester. It's all part of his goal to further increase the documentary's exposure.

For more information about the movie or to find out how to view it, visit


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