Heavy Metal In Baghdad

  • 2008
  • 1 HR 24 MIN
  • NR
  • Documentary

A surprisingly sad, insightful documentary about rock 'n' roll dreams lies behind the ironic hipster title of Eddy Moretti and Suroosh Alvi's documentary about Acrassicauda, Iraq's only metal band. The story of the film, which unfolds alongside the story of the band, begins in 2003, when MTV correspondent Gideon Yago discovered Acrassicauda (named for...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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A surprisingly sad, insightful documentary about rock 'n' roll dreams lies behind the ironic hipster title of Eddy Moretti and Suroosh Alvi's documentary about Acrassicauda, Iraq's only metal band.

The story of the film, which unfolds alongside the story of the band, begins in 2003, when MTV correspondent Gideon Yago discovered Acrassicauda (named for a type of scorpion) while covering the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship. All in their early 20s, singer Waleed Rabiaa, guitarist Firas Al Lateef, drummer Marwan Reyad and lead guitarist Tony Aziz formed Acrassicauda under the old regime, learned English from American movies and bootleg albums and reluctantly incorporated lyrics about Saddam so the Culture and Media Ministry would let them perform. After the invasion they carry guns to rehearsal and power their amps with portable generators, but hope they'll eventually be free to follow their musical muse. Yago wrote about them for Montreal's Vice magazine, and Vice co-founder Suroosh Alvi – the film's onscreen narrator -- stayed in touch with the band for the next two years, during which time Waleed fled to Canada and was replaced by Faisal Talal. In 2005, Vice organized an Acrassicauda concert in Baghdad and against formidable odds – from the 7PM curfew to the fact that the entire Vice team was stranded in Beirut and had to scramble long distance to find an on-site co-ordinator -- the concert was a modest success. But the musicians are increasingly frustrated by the near-anarchy that replaced Saddam's iron-fisted rule, and have been threatened for being too American and making the devil's music -- in Baghdad's violent streets, the threats carry real weight. In 2006, Alvi, Moretti and their entourage sneak into Iraq via Kurdistan to see what's become of them. The answer is sobering: Tony and Marwan are in Damascus, trying to support their families and see if there's a way the band could reassemble there. Faris and Faisel are virtual prisoners of the non-stop street fighting, and after a rocket destroys Faris' small computer store -- along with their precious rehearsal space -- Faris and Faisel join the others in precarious Syrian exile, refugees who can neither work legally nor obtain visas to relocate.

There's a little too much of Alvi's slightly naïve shock and awe at how bad things are in Iraq, but what could have been a snarky look at Middle Easterners trying to rock like Western guitar gods is instead a bittersweet portrait of post-Saddam life for a group of educated, moderately religious young Iraqis who grew up inspired by American popular culture. They love headbanging riffs all the more when their world devolves into one long, real-life pyrotechnical display, and their impotent frustration as their lives are destroyed and their futures strangled by American foreign policy is both palpable and quietly devastating.

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  • Released: 2008
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: A surprisingly sad, insightful documentary about rock 'n' roll dreams lies behind the ironic hipster title of Eddy Moretti and Suroosh Alvi's documentary about Acrassicauda, Iraq's only metal band. The story of the film, which unfolds alongside the stor… (more)

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