Heavy Metal in Baghdad (Director: Eddy Moretti and Suroosh Alvi, USA, 2007): Documenting the band Acrassicauda in Heavy Metal in Baghdad was a “risky, dangerous, and really fucking stupid” undertaking, according to journalist Suroosh Alvi, and those words are certainly descriptive enough for this film. I was expecting a relatively light-hearted, fun and even novel documentary on the only heavy metal band in Baghdad. And yes, there are more than a few “light” moments, but this is a sober and emotional blow to the head of the reality of what is happening in Iraq as seen through the eyes of people just like me: regular, working class guys who are also passionate about music. And it’s nothing like you’ve ever seen on the news.
The filmmakers’ involvement with Acrassicauda began in 2003, when VICE Magazine ran a short piece on them. What followed was a gig set up by VICE two years later, which marked the band’s final performance in Baghdad. After that gig, the band members weren’t heard from again, until a year later when Alvi and Moretti traveled to Baghdad to “see if they were still alive”. This is where the film takes a turn from an already atypical band bio to a “meeting the band” that you have never experienced before (thankfully without the airplane nosedive). Firas, the band’s bassist, plays tour guide for a few days as Alvi and Moretti document both a country and a band that war has torn apart. What follows is a journey through the streets of Iraq, with bulletproof SUVs and a slew of armed bodyguards as company.
As they talk, we learn a lot about these men — about their fears, hopes and dreams. They want to have families. They want to wear their Metallica and Slipknot t-shirts, grow their hair long and have goatees, but any of these things could get them shot, even if they are walking outside before the 9pm curfew. They want to headbang without the fear of being mistaken as Jews in prayer, and killed. They want to flee Baghdad and live in freedom, but they don’t want to leave their families behind or be alienated elsewhere. They want to, as the band’s friend Mike puts it, “fly and be free.” But most of all, they want to rock — but how can you do that in a country with a government legislature banning “music-filled parties and all kinds of singing”?
With titles like “Massacre,” “Between The Ashes” and “Under World,” Acrassicauda’s songs seem to be typical of many a metal band’s; the sad truth, however, is that these titles are completely literal, and their lyrics describe the reality of their world. After seeing things through the eyes of these men (both the filmmakers and the band members), who are really not so unlike me and my friends, I feel much closer to understanding what is really going on over there. I am a music lover, and this angle (for lack of a better word) was extremely effective and emotionally stirring. Watching this film was a very sobering experience, and it will surely stick with me for a long time.
NOTE: I saw this film at a pre-festival press screening at Bovine Sex Club.
UPDATE 9/21/07: The band members are in danger of being deported from their temporary safe haven in Syria. Click here to donate to help them reach a safe destination.