Music journalists Suroosh Alvi and Eddy Moretti were two North American documentary makers who went to Iraq in 2006 as the United States had toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein to make a news report for MTV on the music scene in Baghdad, specifically Acrassicauda, the first and only Iraqi heavy metal band. Times were tough there and being huge fans of the hard rock scene was not the most popular thing to be for many of the more violent citizens of the country, but while they were there the filmmakers arranged a concert for them to play in a local hotel...
While criminally few in the West would happily sit down and watch a documentary about hellish situation in Iraq, and the subsequent displacement of millions of refugees who more than likely could never return to their home country, here Alvi and Moretti found a great way of bringing that story to the more comfortable citizens of the world with the heavy metal angle. While the band members were more keen to allow their music to speak for itself, the fact remained it was impossible to separate their music skills from their life story, such was the fascination of their rebel status in light of their background.
That rebel status rested simply on their love of heavy metal, which along with DVDs of American films had allowed them to speak English, handy for the filmmakers when they interviewed them. Having taught themselves to play by essentially imitating their heroes like Metallica and Slayer, the sets we see them perform do have cover versions, but they wrote their own material as well, a Middle Eastern take on those groups which operated as easily as high quality as they did. It's almost a relief to see how talented they are, as it raises the stakes: metal fans would love this kind of thing, and the facts of their intense background renders them far more hardcore than those they sought to follow.
After all, nobody had set out to execute Metallica simply because they thought their music was inappropriate, yet such was the culture Acrassicauda were existing in that was a risk they ran every day in Baghdad. After the small but triumphant concert in the hotel, Alvi and Moretti returned a year later to find a sorry tale, meeting with Firas who was one of the two members remaining there and with a terribly depressing state of affairs to relate. He now had a young family to support, the practice room had been bombed, the threat of death was a daily worry, and any Iraqis with money and qualifications were getting the hell out of there. The politics of the situation were near incomprehensible, even to him.
The last section of the film catches up with the now reunited band in Syria as they are now refugees, and if you never gave a thought to how these people, to many simply statistics on the news, lived their lives then this should be an eye-opener. But throughout the solidarity of these four young men acted as a beacon of optimism for their situation: music would set them free, even if there were many times when it did not feel like it. The good news was that once their tale had gone global thanks to this movie, the metal community around the world stepped up and raised funds for them to carry on, and after moving to Turkey they were able to settle in the United States, which was only right considering the facts of their case. You may not think you were interested in this kind of music, or the plight of refugees, but combine the two and you had a great documentary, testament to the power of pop culture, and metal in particular.