Despite having seen a lot of screenings after only two days (and already being completely knackered as a result), Heavy Metal in Baghdad is still one of our top films of the festival. We got the chance to talk to the Toronto-born Suroosh Alvi (pictured above on the left)—co-founder of Vice Magazine and co-director of Heavy Metal in Baghdad—about the film and the current situation of Acrassicauda.
Today’s Interview: Suroosh Alvi, co-director of Heavy Metal In Baghdad
Suroosh Alvi: You’re the guy that did the review that called the Vice Guide to Travel “glib and disposable,” huh? I liked that review.
Torontoist: Well, I liked your movie, so I guess we’re even. How did Heavy Metal In Baghdad become a movie?
Interestingly enough, it was supposed to be one of the segments on the Vice Guide to Travel. But Eddy and I couldn’t get in [to Iraq] so we found a camera crew and they filmed the concert for us. The band refused to cancel that concert because if their fans had shown up somewhere there was no concert they could have been putting their lives at risk. That went ahead and there was some interesting footage but not enough, so we went last summer.
What happened really was that we made a feature by accident. We just kept filming what was happening.
How has the response been at TIFF so far?
It’s been incredibly positive. And we’re happy because we’re creating exposure for them so their voices can be heard. Because they’re absolutely fucked right now. They’re stuck in that Syrian purgatory.
After we got selected for the festival, we had TIFF write a letter to the Canadian embassy in Damascus, a formal invitation to come to the festival. We paid for their visa applications and everything and they were flat out denied.
As of about two days ago they’re at risk of getting kicked back into Iraq. The Syrian government has said they’re going to start sending people back to Iraq who don’t have the right kind of stamps on their passports. And these guys don’t have the right kind of stamps.
So what we are doing is we’ve set up HeavyMetalinBaghdad.com, and we are trying to raise money for them to move to another country in the Middle East where they can gain UN protection and be accepted as refugees and live in peace and have a shot because they’re not getting that in Syria. We’ll have that site accepting donations in a few days.
The way I look at it, if the 12,000 friends they have on MySpace gave $5 each, that would be enough money for these guys to get out with their families and get to another country.
We’re working with the band very closely. We’re talking to them every day.
Are you going to be able to do anything with the demo that you recorded with them?
Not with those demos. There were two microphones for the whole studio. The band didn’t feel like it was really their best foot forward. What I would like to do once they get out (knock on wood) is to get them into a good studio, good equipment, and make them work really hard and record a proper album. The audio quality of the recording just wasn’t good enough for a proper release.
You went to a Pakistan gun market for the Vice Guide To Travel. How much scarier was Iraq?
About a million times.
From what you’ve seen, do you think Iraq is worse now than when you visited it?
I don’t really know, but it seems to be deteriorating. What became clear to us when we visited them in Syria was that the refugee situation is a real consequence of the war in Iraq. I’m not going to wait around for the governments to do anything about it. I don’t expect Harper or Bush to do anything. We as people who are moved by this story can only try and raise awareness and make a difference. Helping these guys has become our humanitarian mission. You can only do so much, but we have a relationship with these guys and it’s heartbreaking to talk to them.
For me, this film getting selected at this festival is a huge success. We’re getting the word out to a bigger audience than it was before.
Heavy Metal in Baghdad plays tonight at 9:45 p.m. at the ROM Theatre, and you can read Acrassicauda’s first blog at HeavyMetalinBaghdad.com.