Thursday, June 12, 2008

Iraq and Roll Refugee: Heavy Metal in Baghdad on DVD

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 others out of their homeland and into an uncertain future as refugees.

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 is truly about the human cost of the war, and the growing and much ignored Iraqi refugee crisis. By lookng 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... That's the democracy that we got now... so I'm like, f*ck this democracy.
- Marwan, drummer

They took Ali Baba and left the forty thieves.
- Firas, bass player
We're given only a brief look at how life was under Saddam, which 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 after the fall, where there's no electricity, a curfew of 7PM... and oh yeah... the likelihood of getting shot by insurgents. Vice pulls some strings to set up a gig for them in 2005 at hotel in the green zone, which turns out to be the last time they play in their homeland (and the last action that 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,) and their practice space is in 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 $1500 a day). With all the rampant violence, the band soon follows millions of others and finds their way to Syria, to join a growing refugee crisis. Here, even if they're not allowed to work and are treated as unwanted guests by their hosts, they at least are able to book a show. All they have is each other, and often that is 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.

Just to rub some salt in our guilt-ridden wounds, an epilogue tells us 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 the band out with money, and as a result, the band was able to make it to a slightly better situation in Turkey, as documented in the DVD release's bonus feature, Heavy Metal in Istanbul, a 45-minute update that takes us all the way to January 2008. It's both a continuation of the band's story, as well as a deeper look at the continued refugee crisis at hand.

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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