2022 Sundance Film Festival review
Written and directed by Rita Baghdadi.
Lilas and Shery, co-founders and guitarists of the Middle East’s first all-female metal band, struggle with friendship, sexuality and destruction in their quest to become thrash metal rock stars.
Moroccan-American director Rita Baghdadi (My country is no more) new documentary Sirens certainly has no shortage of fascinating subjects, as Baghdadi takes a look at the Middle East’s first all-female metal band, Lebanese band Slave to Sirens.
The doc chronicles the ordeals of fiercely passionate and iron-willed rhythm and lead guitarists Lilas and Shery as they attempt to get signed, go on tour, record their album, and “make it” while spreading their progressive messages in the Middle East and beyond.
It goes without saying that the obstacles to the group’s success are orders of magnitude greater than any Western equivalent. For starters, there is the highly volatile political home that is Lebanon itself, defined by war, widespread economic conflict, pervasive conservative values and entrenched homophobia. Beyond that, the group’s efforts to smash Lebanese patriarchy are being met with online abuse, namely slanderous claims that the ladies are satanic blasphemers.
Metal is at least a suitable vehicle for Lilas, Shery and company to channel their rage, and their mission against the odds to defy their obnoxious critics makes them incredibly easy to root for. Not bad that this intimate portrait depicts them as friendly and extremely committed young women.
Baghdadi’s film is defined by highs and lows; the majesty of being booked for a concert at Glastonbury and the disappointment of playing on an almost empty field. But they still play furiously, and are pragmatic enough to accept that they still played one of the most iconic music festivals in the world, and that the few people who were he clearly seemed to be enjoying himself.
Basically, every hit is met with a crushing setback, whether venues refuse to accommodate them due to outside political pressure, or even creative friction within the band that throws album production into a tailspin. It’s clear that Lilas and Shery’s earlier romantic entanglement has created an atmosphere of tension in the band ever since, one that almost threatens to shatter Slave to Sirens permanently.
All of this speaks to the enormous challenges of not only creating art in a war-torn landscape steeped in deeply “traditional” values, but simply existing as a maverick – especially if you’re a gay woman who loves thrash metal. Lilas devastatingly states at one point that home, friendship and love don’t feel safe in Lebanon, and while Baghdadi understandably resolves none of this by the end of the film, her travelogue eye-catching is at least a winning testament to the enduring spirit of the band and others like them.
Though filmed with a suitably scuzzy run-and-gun style, it nonetheless still feels cinematic at times, even when we’re treated to an uncomfortably intimate front-row seat for some of Lilas and Shery’s most intense arguments. Interpersonal drama is cut in the face of snappy concert footage and gritty behind-the-scenes vignettes; Grace Zahrah’s sharp editing reaches its peak when it juxtaposes the permissive atmosphere of Glastonbury with the austere expanse of Beirut.
It is certainly fair to say that Baghdadi could have gone much further in exploring both the group and the environment in which they reside, because at 78 minutes his film is only really able to address its issues. urgent than at the surface level. It’s more of an introduction to the subject than a deep dive, but worthy topics absolutely carry it over the top.
In tribute to those who continue to shape art in the face of overwhelming adversity, Sirens hits his markers with clarity and compassion. This intimate documentary on the wall pays homage to the brotherhood and freedom of creative expression that many of us take for granted.
Scintillating Myth Rating – Movie: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more cinematic rides.