Sound — 9
Anyone who's attempted to make a living in music already knows that it's a combination of talent, luck, and timing. But things aren't even that simple for band featured in the documentary Heavy Metal In Baghdad. As the only Iraqi heavy metal band, Acrassicauda has endured more than what most of us could imagine since the US invaded its country in 2003. I promise you that no matter what issues you're dealing with (be it gathering a solid fan base, working through personal problem with your bandmates, or being unable to afford a guitar), you'll have a very different perspective on your situation after watching this film. Filmmakers Eddy Moretti and Suroosh Alvi traveled to Iraq to chronicle the day-to-day life of Acrassicauda, a group that basically just wants to play their Metallica covers in peace and have the freedom to grow a goatee if they want. But both of those desires are scrutinized to a frightening degree back in Iraq, and even finding fans who are courageous enough to attend their concerts can be an impossibility at times. Acrassicauda is a group that definitely does have talent, but playing in Iraq is pretty much a death wish. Throughout the course of filming, things go from bad to worse. Speaking English on the street can put you at risk; wearing a Slipknot shirt is asking to be targeted; and when you travel down a particular 7-mile strip of road, you should expect sniper fire. It's a heartbreaking piece of film, particular when you watch the absolute despair and hopelessness that Acrassicauda relays in interviews. Being labeled as the the only Iraqi heavy metal band might give you the impression that Acrassicauda is nothing more than a gimmick, but all of the players have as much talent (if not more) than a lot of metal bands with record contracts. And if ever there was a band that needed to play brutal music to channel their anger, that would be Acrassicauda. The film covers a few of their gigs, and it's absolutely fascinating to see the band's technical skill as well as the Iraqi fans' passion for metal. They risk being bombed or shot at to attend these shows, but it's essentially therapy where they can release all of the anger and fear. The band eventually has to take refuge in Syria (and since the film, Turkey), and there is an incredibly sad comment from one of the band saying that he figured that most of those original fans were either dead or simply disappeared.
Content — 10
The film is still currently being shown at festivals across the country, but this is a documentary that I do hope will make it to DVD in the not-too-distant future. At about an hour-and-a-half long, Heavy Metal In Baghdad contains some absolutely incredible, gritty footage of life in Iraq. Moretti and Alvi go above and beyond what a lot of foreign journalists attempt in Iraq, which obviously makes their security crew feel uncomfortable. For $1,500 they purchased a bulletproof SUB, another unprotected vehicle, 2 drivers, 2 shooters, and 1 translator. That number of bodyguards grows exponentially when the security company realized that these particular journalists are taking more risks. It could have easily turned into a piece of political commentary, but the filmmakers primarily keep the story focused on the situations that Acrassicauda have personally experienced -- and they've gone through more than most of us can imagine. Their practice space is destroyed along with all their instruments after a bombing; they have to leave their families behind; and their dreams of being in a band are nearly destroyed. While you can't really say that Heavy Metal In Baghdad has a happy ending, there is more hope for Acrassicauda than when they were living in Iraq.
Production Quality — 9
The film footage is gritty at times, but that's totally to be expected when you take into consideration that Moretti and Alvi weren't allowed to film in most places. There is plenty of shaky footage because the crew was constantly on the move, but there is also an equal helping of well-shot live footage and interviews. Given the less-than-ideal situation, artsy camera shots would just take away from the reality of living in Iraq.
Overall Impression — 10
The film might not have arrived in every city yet, but definitely check it out when you get an opportunity. There is such a transformation within the band itself, and you watch as the smiles and sarcasm from the early moments of the film eventually turn into tears and despair. Music is what keeps Acrassicauda going through it all, and it's devastating when the members contemplate giving it all up. Moving to Syria might keep them physically safe, but it's not until they record their first CD that you really do get a chance to see the smiles return.