Premiering on the Sundance Channel on March 19, this documentary got a limited theatrical and DVD release in the summer of 2008. For three years, it follows the adventures of Acrassicauda, a heavy metal rock band in Iraq.
Gideon Yago, a reporter for MTV, went to the war zone in November 2003. Responding to a magazine article, Yago wanted to know the state of rock music in the war torn country. There, he and the director of this movie met one of the band members for what would become Acrassicauda, which when translated means "Black Scorpion."
Returning in July 2005, the filmmakers focused on the newly formed Acrassicauda and its five band members and their difficult task of organizing a rock show in Baghdad.
Acrassicauda takes its influences from such legendary bands as Slayer and Metallica. Heavy metal isn't exactly an art form that's very popular in Iraq. Yet, it does have a following with a good number of young Iraqi men.
Some of the band members comment that under Saddam Hussein's regime they were restricted as to what songs they could perform. In the wake of his ousting, they have a slew of new problems. We see that as they set up their instruments at the venue, they shutter at the sounds of bombs in the background.
It's difficult for them to get and perform in the middle of a war zone. One member of Acrassicauda says the band is basically stuck between a rock and a hard place, or stuck between Iraq and a hard place with American troops on one side and terrorists on the other.
Acrassicauda's songs don't comment on politics. The band's members say they just want to rock, not get caught up in war. For the two or three hours when they're performing, and even for the young Iraqis who attend the concerts, they forget that stuck feeling, that feeling of being a caged animal. The filmmakers, Suroosh Alvi and Eddy Moretti, capture that feeling in headbanging jam sessions.
Returning in August 2006, Alvi and Moretti comment on the Time magazine article calling Baghdad "Life in Hell." Alvi and Moretti revisit the bandmates just to see if they're still alive. The bandmates are still alive but fear is everywhere. There's mandatory curfews, carnage and destruction, danger even in daylight, making concerts difficult to do. It's sad for Acrassicauda because the concerts were the only way young Iraqis could express their anger.
We get honest conversations from the guys of Acrassicauda who discuss things like the misconceptions about the sectarian violence, the mass exodus of Iraqis to Syria or Damascus, and how that's deeply affected them.
It's a real eye-opening feature. The filmmakers accentuate those conversations with moments like a young guy swimming in a pool with gunfire off in the distance and how he's accepted "living with death everyday." They also give us heartbreaking testimonials where we truly learn how young Iraqis have been hurt by all this.
Five Stars out of Five
Rated R for pervasive language
Running Time: 1 hr. and 24 mins.