The new HBO documentary Nos Amis — French for “our friends” — transports viewers to Paris, where the southern California–based band Eagles of Death Metal was mid-song when ISIL terrorists attacked on November 13, 2015, leaving 89 dead.
But the film, directed by Colin Hanks and debuting this February, is not just a tale of tragedy — it is a powerful story of friendship and recovery as the band made its post-attack return to Paris. And Hanks most likely would not have been involved if not for a singular moment six years earlier, at another music venue 6,000 miles away, on Los Angeles’s Sunset Strip.
In late 2009, Hanks secured a backstage pass for a show at the Roxy to see Them Crooked Vultures, a rock super-group featuring John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin), Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) and Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age). After the show, the actor-director — who’d gone alone — followed a long hallway backstage, to a room full of people he was sure he wouldn’t know.
But when he poked his head in, he recalls, “pretending that I’m looking for someone I know,” Homme spotted him. “He said, ‘Hey, get in here!’” Hanks remembers. “And that’s how it started. We’ve been friends ever since.”
Hanks would also soon become friends with Jesse Hughes, Homme’s childhood pal from Palm Desert, California, the cape-clad driving force behind Eagles of Death Metal. (The band is a part-time project for Homme.)
When Hanks needed music for the trailer of his first documentary, All Things Must Pass, his 2015 homage to Tower Records, his EDM friends offered a song. They also agreed to play at the doc’s premiere party in the old Tower Records parking lot.
Less than a month later, Eagles of Death Metal — minus Homme, who was back home with his pregnant wife — witnessed a barrage of bullets in Paris.
In the aftermath, Hanks, who’d just come off the Tower Records doc and had begun starring in the CBS series Life in Pieces, had a quick decision to make. The band would be heading back to Paris for their first post-attack show. And while the musicians weren’t looking to make a film to document the occasion, if it were to happen, they’d only work with Hanks.
“We literally had two weeks to find financing, crew up, book tickets,” Hanks reports. “It was seat-of-our-pants all the way through.”
He decided to dive in, driven mostly by the desire “to make something positive out of all this.” But he recalls having to overcome his instinct to protect his friends. “I instantly went, ‘No. That’s too personal.’ This whole thing has [presented] all sorts of emotional conflicts for me.”
Hanks and his two main subjects eventually agreed to “get uncomfortable. And when we’d all be uncomfortable,” he says, “that’s when we would lean in and try and be even more open.”
The result is a touching film about the bonds between fans and artists, bandmates and fellow musicians, old amigos and lifelong comrades.
“I’m proud that a lot of people knew about this event, but didn’t know anything about the story behind it,” Hanks says. “Ultimately the thing I’m most proud of is, it comes from a mutual place of wanting to help your friends. That is always important.”
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 1, 2017