Mitchell's survey across the nation's punk underground reveals new and sometimes Talmudic wrinkles: Partisans of straightedge (punks who don't drink, smoke or have casual sex) discuss whether "vegan straightedge" is a legitimate movement, and the Black Metalheads discuss their even more extreme brethren, the Suicide Metalheads.
Still, the film's most fascinating revelation is the emergence of Christian punks who call themselves the Zealots, perhaps after the original Jewish rabble-rousers who died en masse at the Masada 2000 years ago. These kids might be considered red state punks--they've found sustenance in religion and the gospels, and the young women interviewed (including Jason Mitchell's wife Patricia) talk about their hopes for marriage and disavow any feminist leanings.
For Mitchell, the subject is a personal one. In his film, he includes his own spiritual evolution from teenage dissolution. In 1997, a light went on when he heard a straightedge anthem, and he became a cleaner-living punk and, eventually, a filmmaker.
Dark Planet: Visions of America will be screened at Durham's Carolina Theatre on Nov. 30 at 7 and 9:30 p.m.