Reviews HMIB

On DVD: Heavy Metal in Baghdad

The documentary ‘Heavy Metal in Baghdad’ on DVD
Hart Sharp Video
(DVD Cover Art)

Jun 13, 2008,  Drake Lelane

While it’s true that most rock bands face all kinds of obstacles — venues that don’t pay, bad management, the rising cost of hair product — how many can say that their practice space was destroyed by a Scud missile? Acrassicauda, Iraq’s only heavy metal band, can sadly make that claim, along with plenty of other grievances associated with their new democracy, which has forced them and millions of others out of their homeland and into an uncertain future as refugees.

Now out on DVD from Hart Sharp Video, Heavy Metal in Baghdad, by Vice’s Suroosh Alvi and Eddy Moretti, started out as the story of a heavy metal band, but in the end it’s about the human cost of the war and the growing (and much-ignored) Iraqi refugee crisis. By looking at the war through the eyes of these four very Westernized musicians (they learned their English watching American movies and listening to Metallica, dude) the film is able to resonate in a different way than the slew of other documentaries concerning the war.

“You got the troops and you got the terrorists outside, and we are stuck in the middle.” — Marwan, drummer

“They took Ali Baba and left the forty thieves.” — Firas, bass player

We’re given only a brief look back at life under Saddam, which for the band was marked by the annoyance of having to sing a song for the regime. But at least Acrassicauda (Latin for “black widow”) could play gigs, unlike in post-war Iraq, where there’s no electricity, a curfew of 7 p.m., and the likelihood of getting shot by insurgents. In 2005 Vice pulls some strings to set up a gig at a hotel in the Green Zone. It turns out to be the last time they play in their homeland, and the last action that the hotel sees as it’s blown up by a car bomb some months later. But through it all, the band somehow manages to hold on to their dream.

“If you really want to know what is the attraction, look around … we are living in a heavy metal world.” — Faisal, lead singer / rhythm guitarist

By the next year, the landscape is like an album cover from one of their favorite bands (Iron Maiden’s Death on the Road, as Firas humorously points out) and their practice space is buried in rubble. Alvi and Moretti treat us to a game of chicken with their dangerous surroundings. Even then, you can’t go anywhere without plenty of guns, bullet-proof vests and a large security detail (which at the time runs you about $1,500 a day).

The band members soon find their way to Syria to join a growing number of Iraqi refugees. Here, even if they’re not allowed to work and are treated as unwanted guests by their hosts, they’re at least able to book a show. All they have is each other, but often that’s not enough. The frustration boils over in the final scene, as Marwan has an angry message for those watching and sitting on their hands — and it stings like a punch in the gut from a new friend.

An epilogue tells us that the band later had to sell their instruments to pay the rent. It’s a downer of an ending, but their story obviously doesn’t end there. The film’s website made it possible to help out the band with donations. As a result, Acrassicauda made it to a slightly better situation in Turkey, as documented in the DVD’s bonus feature, Heavy Metal in Istanbul. This 45-minute update that takes us all the way to January 2008. It acts as both a continuation of the band’s story and as a deeper look at the continued refugee crisis.

Also included in the DVD release are plenty of additional and deleted scenes along with some videos of the band performing live.


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