Answering the reasonable question “Is there a heavy-metal music scene currently in Baghdad?” well-meaning docu “Heavy Metal in Baghdad,” for better or worse, imposes the milieu’s “whoa, dude” attitude on the day-to-day challenges of life as a rocker in that war-torn city. Too tonally eccentric for theatrical play, this is nevertheless a distinctive fest add, unique cable buy and ancillary fan acquisition.
Named for the Latin word meaning “black scorpion,” quartet Acrassicauda managed but three shows before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Adopting the logic that “to stay away from the devil, sing for him,” they penned and sang “The Youth of Iraq” as a tribute to Saddam Hussein.
They’ve only played three additional gigs since then, rendering their story more about living the headbanger’s creed in a Muslim society and daily survival than actual performance.
Still, Iraq’s sole such outfit is to be admired for perseverance in the face of extreme adversity. Band’s most affable and eloquent spokesman is bassist Firas al Lateef, whose firm rejection of the existence of sectarian violence — he’s a Sunni, his wife is a Shiite — reps the deepest political waters plumbed here.
Later regrouping in Damascus, Syria, the band cuts a few songs during its first-ever recording session. Subsequently, members were forced to sell their instruments for cash.
Pic’s chief drawback is onscreen narrator Suroosh Alvi (co-helming with Eddy Moretti), whose fratboy glee at their “crazy mission” segues to such probing questions as, “What’s the vibe now?” Jarring approach may help to pull in target audience, but it also undercuts the life-and-death gravitas of the musicians’ decision to carry on.
Rough tech package evokes the seat-of-the-pants conditions under which helmers worked. VBS.TV is the broadband Internet television component of free monthly glossy mag Vice, boasting helmer Spike Jonze as creative director. Per filmmakers, the band has been denied visas to leave Syria, and currently risk being deported back to Iraq.