Anti-Flag had started working on what would become a documentary about the band when Donald Trump started his campaign. Trump, of course, would go on to become the most cruel, xenophobic president of the U.S. in its modern history.
“We were just coming to a point where everyone felt that both stories had been told and then—boom,” vocalist and guitarist Justin Sane says. “The presidential election was on the horizon. We decided that releasing this documentary beforehand might give some people perspective on what was to come.”
The band, certainly no strangers to taking strong political stances, did a lot of activism around the Bush vs. Gore election, so they definitely knew what was on the horizon.
“At the time, that election felt life and death to us, and for some, it truly was,” Sane says. “For example, if you were gonna be shipped over to Iraq, that election had serious consequences for you. [The 2020] election is different, but it feels similar and has the same urgency. We thought our documentary had some stories in it that could offer perspective to people today. I hope those who see it get that out of it.”
Anti-Flag started working with director Jon Nix on the documentary, Behind Barricades: The Story of Anti-Flag, on a recommendation from Chris Stowe, who runs A-F Records, about six years ago.
“A lot of people told us over the years that they’d like to know more about the early years of the band,” Sane says. “At one-point, Chris mentioned that if we ever wanted to do a documentary, he knew someone he thought would be cool, and we were off and running.”
The film, which premiered in October via VEEPS, features interviews with the band, as well as with musicians including Tom Morello, Billy Bragg, Rise Against’s Tim McIlrath, and Brian Baker of Minor Threat and Bad Religion, among others.
Sane jokes that the band basically took a box of random video tapes that they had shot over the years, drove them to Cleveland, dropped them on the front porch of the director, and said, “Is there a story in here?”
Nix supplemented a lot of Anti-Flag’s own footage with video he tracked down from shows and older interviews posted online.
Surprisingly, looking back on the footage, Sane said he remembers just about all of it.
“The first two to three years were just so intense, and we were so in it,” he says. “But, I was surprised to see the footage of us sitting with Andy [Flag, former bassist]. He’s smoking a cigarette, and we’re laughing while doing an interview. I remember that interview like it was yesterday because it was maybe the first one we ever did. I remember thinking, ‘Someone is filming this!’ In those days, there weren’t a lot of video cameras around, so it was unreal and incredible to me that someone would put the effort into videotaping an interview with us.”
In the years since, the band have been filmed by folks across the globe.
As the band was in a retrospective mood making this doc, Sane said there were a few things he might have done differently when it came to the band.
“I wish I had understood that not every decision was the most important or most serious decision in the life of the band,” he says. “We were so wrapped up in making everything we did count as much as possible, so early in the band, each of us always felt frustrated if the others didn’t agree with our point of view, be it on touring, or recording, or what venue to play.
“Of course, that led to a lot of tension that, in retrospect, wasn’t necessary, and definitely wasn’t helpful on many levels. Over the years, I’ve learned that whether you say yes or no to an opportunity does not determine whether something will be a success or a failure. It’s important to compromise with your bandmates and be OK when people see things differently than you.”
The documentary ends with people giving testimonials about how punk and, in many cases, Anti-Flag, influenced who they are today.
“We asked for those submissions, and that is one of my favorite parts of the documentary because of the sincerity expressed by those people,” says Sane. “Also, because I could relate so well to the things they had to say because punk and certain bands did the same thing for me and are a large part of why I am who I am todays and why I do what I do.”