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Not surprisingly the film has been somewhat of media sensation, and there was a distinct vibe of anticipation in the air ahead of NYUFF's opening event at the Anthology Film Archives. The ticket line spilled outside the theater, nearing the corner at 2nd and 2nd, and the buzz seemed to rub off on every passerby. There were tall, smelly dudes, short, fragrant women, low-talking parents, and a multitude of beards, and as ticket holders and the press corps filed inside festival organizers could be overheard admitting that they were stunned at, if not flat-out under-prepared for, the attention the film was receiving.
The United States, as a body of people, seems to have contracted a severe case of "Iraq fatigue," and a film like Heavy Metal in Baghdad can only serve to provide the benefits of perspective to everyone. Far from the ambiguities of a Hillary Clinton chopper landing in Bosnia, Moretti and Alvi bring war to the screen in a palpable way, with all the violence, paranoia, and humanity that comes with it, and they do so through the eyes of a rock band full of young men who can scarcely recall a homeland that was not a complete war zone.
|Faisal Talal, the band's vocalist, throws the horns.|
The film begins, in 2003, with an introduction to the band meet the band as they head to practice, guitars and guns in hand. The members of Acrassicauda are serious, but hopeful, and joke about having to play "something for Saddam" during one of their first shows, a song to represent their loyal servitude to the dictator, complete with silly lyrics that according to Faisal Talal, the thoughtful and sad-eyed singer, were "a bunch of bullshit." The group is quick to point out the disadvantages of being an Iraqi metal band, explaining that growing their hair long is out of the question and the very act of head-banging - which is confused with the nodding of Jewish prayers - could land them in jail.
By the time the film jumps ahead to 2006, the jokes are fewer and further between. With friends and fans having been killed or gone missing in the years of tumult following the poorly planned American-led invasion, hope for a peaceful life is dwindling in the ranks of Acrassicauda. Amid the chaos and rubble the band members gravitate toward heavy metal, the one constant in their lives and the one thing they can latch on to - until their practice space is bombed, a security lockdown has nearly obliterated contact with each another, and they are forced to their instruments for the means to survive.
Of the band's four members, Firas Al-Lateef, the bass player, emerges as the most candid on-screen personality, and for learning the language from American pop-culture, his English is nearly impeccable. From his perspective Al-Lateef offers a wealth of insight on the conflict in Iraq, especially the media's coverage slanted coverage. The ongoing and bloody battle between Sunni and Shi'a? What battle? His wife is Shi'a. The declaration of jihad against all infidels? "There's no fucking jihad." The death toll and the news spectacle aside, it is great that Saddam is gone, though, right? Al-Lateef likens the deposing of the Baathist dictator to getting rid of Ali Baba and still having the 40 Thieves to contend with.
|Acrassicauda performing in Baghdad for the creators at VICE Films.|
Heavy Metal in Baghdad follows Acrassicauda up through 2007, when the band fled to live as refugees in Damascus. Although a sixteen-hour bus ride from Baghdad and in the midst of some 1.2 million fellow Iraqi refugees, the band has not found a better life in Syria. Struggling to make a living and remain clear of officials in Damascus who are inclined to deport Iraqis to their homeland, the band continues to search for a permanent and stable home. The quartet, which along with Talal and Al-Lateef includes guitarist Tony Aziz and drummer Marwan Riyak, has been receiving donations through the film's website and various events staged by the VICE conglomerate, but have been unable to leave the life of war and refugee camps. Currently living in Turkey, they have been denied entrance into the United States, Germany, Sweden, France, England, and, yep, even Canada.
Eye-opening and gut-wrenching and heart-mauling, Heavy Metal in Baghdad is simultaneously about something very specific (a metal band in Iraq) and something very universal (the struggle for survival). It has all the snickering candor of a bad VH-1 behind-the-scenes special and all the poignant video statements of an Anderson Cooper report. Acrassicauda are easily the most famous musicians from their entire country, yet to date the band has played nine shows in five years. They are the subjects of a hip new film, but unable to see it in New York or anywhere else. They are rid of a dictator and living as refugees in a foreign land.
Even within the often-bizarre context of heavy metal music, Acrassicauda are an infinitely interesting anomaly, and Heavy Metal in Baghdad does their story justice. See this film when you get the chance, visit the film's website, and for the sake of Acrassicauda, the next time you hear some heavy metal crank the volume to 11, throw up the horns and bang your fucking head. SEE ALSO: www.heavymetalinbaghdad.com
SEE ALSO: www.acrassicauda.s5.com
SEE ALSO: www.vbs.tv
SEE ALSO: www.nyuff.com/2008/
Wearing plain black t-shirts, LAS contributing writer Pat Sullivan thinks a lot about a lot of different things. He likes thermoses but rarely has occasion to use them. He lives in Brooklyn.
See other articles by Patrick Sullivan.
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