HEAVY METAL IN BAGHDAD
2007 – USA / Canada
Directors: Suroosh Alvi, Eddy Moretti
Documentary, featuring: Acrassicauda
– Reviewed by Linda
Heavy Metal in Baghdad Headbanger band Acrassicauda (Latin for “Black Scorpions”) are more than a bit unique in the heavy metal world: they are young Iraqi musicians that have doggedly been covering their most adored favorite bands (like Metallica and Slip Knot) and creating their own original songs. But they’ve been doing this first under the shadow of Saddam Hussein’s regime, and more recently in the middle of civil war and foreign occupation. The young men in Acrassicauda are smart, articulate, and have endless passion for the universal glory that is rock and roll. But in six years of existence, the band had only 5 gigs, including one put on by the filmmakers who had discovered them via long-distance communication.
Heavy Metal in Baghdad is a bit of a ramshackle documentary with a rock-n-roll casualness in its filmmaking. It was created by a couple of print journalists who got obsessed with this band of repressed metalheads (perhaps the only metal band in Iraq, as far as they know), and struck up an email, then in-person relationship with the guys. The documentary is almost as much about the journalists as it is about the band. Co-director (and interviewer) Suroosh Alvi is often in front of the camera himself, looking scared to death as the crew rides in a rented SUV filled with armed guards to protect them in Baghdad. The guys in the band are excited about the attention, plus the help to get a gig, but you can tell they also think of the journalists as outsiders, and rather naive ones at that.
It is with the filmmakers’ help that the band gets to perform a very strictly controlled (and more than a bit secretive) show in a hotel in Baghdad. Still, about 100 young men with black foreign metal-band t-shirts (that could get them arrested) show up (never any women), and their glee and pure joy is infectious. Apparently the devil horns are universal, as is the headbanging—though these guys lament that they are not allowed to grow their hair long.
Where the film hits hard though is after the guys leave Iraq one by one to Damascus, Syria for refuge. Now living as “less than zero” refugees in a foreign country, they get to see a close to final cut of the film. The guys watch footage of the rough cut of this very documentary, tears filling their eyes as they see images of rubble where their practice space of six years once stood—and then their sadness turns to anger. In the film’s final moments, the foreign filmmakers, are humbly put into their place by these artists whose home has turned into a violent hellhole. Though Heavy Metal in Baghdad, is rough and rambling, almost like a home video, it is still thoughtful and interesting, especially if you are a music fan of any sort.