Sirens | QFest St. Louis 2022

Lilas and Shery play guitar in a thrash metal band, which may not sound unusual (if a bit old-fashioned) until you consider that they live in Beirut and their five-piece band, Slave to Sirens, is composed entirely of women. Just living in Lebanon gives them ample material for their songs—frequent blackouts, a seemingly endless civil war, and a legal code that bans any sexual relationship that “contradicts the laws of nature” form the context in which they live and work—and all of this is nothing new. As Lilas says, “Since the day my grandparents were born this country’s been fucked up.”

Rita Baghdadi’s documentary Sirens (April 30, 6:15 pm) is about several things: Slave to Sirens as the first metal band in the Middle East, not to mention an all-female metal band; the current situation in Lebanon and how it shapes people’s lives (the band is not a favorite with religious authorities); and above all the story of Lilas and Shery navigating a world that expects them to embrace conventional female roles. They used to be best friends, and perhaps something more, but the film is evasive on the latter point, which is probably just as well—personal dramas are a dime a dozen, and there are more interesting matters to focus on here.

Lilas lives with her mother, who clearly loves her daughter but also thinks that at age 25 it’s more than time for her to get married. Lilas isn’t interested, but lets her mother think it’s all about preserving her freedom (“I don’t want someone beside me. I am beside me”) rather than the fact that she loves women, not men. The stress of maintaining this deception takes a toll on her, and tensions between her and Shery also threaten the band’s continued existence.

When Slave to Sirens receives an invitation to play at the Glastonbury Festival in England, they prepare as if they were cramming for an exam, analyzing concert tapes and carefully planning out their moves on stage. The offer to appear at the world’s biggest music festival is not due to the novelty of their story: they (well, mostly Shery) write their own material, they’ve got the metal sound, and they also look the part, from their black facial makeup to their tattoos to their Flying V guitars. They also bring the energy, which pays off when they’re given a daytime slot at Glastonbury—the crowd is sparse when they begin their set, but through force of will, combined with an exuberant performance, they manage to increase it to respectable size by the time they play their last chord. | Sarah Boslaugh

All QFest films will be shown at the Galleria 6 Cinema in Richmond Heights. Individual tickets are $15 for general admission and $12 for Cinema St. Louis members and students with valid ID; five-film passes and all-access passes are also available. The shorts programs and two features—The Unabridged Mrs. Vera’s Daybook and Two Eyes—are also available for home viewing in Missouri and Illinois from April 29 through May 5. Proof of full vaccination or a negative PCR test from the previous 72 hours is required for in-person screenings. Further information is available from the Cinema St. Louis website.

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