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HEAVY METAL IN BAGHDAD (directors: Eddy Moretti/Suroosh Alvi; screenwriters: Bernardo Loyola/Suroosh Alvi; cinematographer: Eddy Moretti; editor: Bernardo Loyola; music: Acrassicauda; cast: Eddy Moretti, Suroosh Alvi, Firas al Lateef, Faisal Talal, Marwan Reyad, Tony Aziz; Runtime: 84; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Eddy Moretti/Suroosh Alvi/Monica Hampton; Arts Alliance America; 2007-USA/Canada-in English and Arabic with English subtitles)
“Gives us a rough idea of how bloody awful it is to be living in Baghdad.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Vice magazine, based in NYC, has its co-founder journalists Suroosh Alvi and head man Eddy Moretti visit Iraq to shoot a guerrilla style documentary in HD on Iraq’s only metal band, Acrassicauda–the Latin word for “black scorpion.” This sprawling, unfocused and diverting film was made for VBS TV. The hipster English speaking band members, bassist Firas al Lateef, lead singer/guitarist Faisal Talal, drummer Marwan Reyad and premiere guitarist Tony Aziz, are all in the early twenties and the apolitical band is driven by the music of Iron Maiden and Metallica.

The film picks up with the band playing a gig on November 2003 in a hotel in Saddam’s Baghdad to a small but appreciative audience of headbangers. Later during the democracy period of the post-Iraq War, they found it almost impossible to give concerts as their freedom to travel was limited because of the violence. Their freedom was also limited about what they could say (can’t criticize the government), wear (a Slipknot T-shirt could get you executed), speak (it was dangerous to speak English in public) and how long their hair could be (the authorities believed only Satan worshipers wear long hair). After giving a concert to a few of their diehard fans in July 2005 in a hotel powered by a generator and cut short due to a nearby car bombing, the boys had to forget about giving concerts as life became too violent for such events. Firas and Faisal, even though best friends who live 15 minutes apart in Baghdad, have to go six months without seeing each other because the streets are so unsafe. A fear and paranoia ripped the country, that had the boys become so depressed they eventually split to Syria and safety as refugees–where they had to start over again.

But even though Syria is peaceful, they are at a disadvantage living in a strange country without friends, family, much money or contacts. With just about no interest in Syria for heavy metal, the boys play one concert there and cut three songs on a demo tape, their first time in a recording studio.

This eyewitness report on the hardships on the innocent civilians caused by the war, gives us a rough idea of how bloody awful it is to be living in Baghdad and how isolated it must feel for these talented musicians who are prevented from doing what they like best. Even in the best of times, the authorities didn’t appreciate their music and called it Satanic.

It’s a bummer to see the boys pouting in Damascus and wondering about their families back in Iraq, their future and if they will ever be allowed to just ‘rock on’ in peace.

Though the filmmakers have a man crush on Acrassicauda and their report on them is well-intentioned, their film-making and journalism skills, dude, are inadequate to get a better story. They waste too much time fawning over the boys and pretending the story is all about them putting themselves in harm’s way to trek where few other international journalists dare. But for all its hiccups, it gives us a unique peek at a crushed country and of a severe refugee problem causing a brain drain because already some 2.5 million Iraqis are living in other countries while their country flounders.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”