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Duluth native sang about peace, died by the gun and is featured in film

Eric Heim, who performed as Iya, appeared in "Funkytown," a film about the Twin Cities rock scene. Heim grew up in Duluth and attended Central High School in the 1970s. (Submitted photo)

Director Steven Greenberg had a lot more filming planned for Iya, a popular reggae musician from Duluth who was born Eric Heim.

But Iya was murdered before he could do that.

With his free-flowing style, long blond dreadlocks and soulful voice, Iya sang impossible-to-resist upbeat songs about peace, harmony and being part of a global


"I don't need the money," he was filmed saying. "I don't need the fame. I need to know that what I'm doing is making a difference."

Iya and his band were one of five Minneapolis bar bands on the verge of making it that Greenberg followed for three years in the mid-1990s for his documentary "Funkytown." Greenberg also wrote the 1980 disco hit of the same name.

"It was a reality show," Greenberg said of the film that shows both the tedium between gigs and the excitement of playing in packed clubs. "We were running around with cameras and microphones after these people everywhere they went."

One hundred hours of film was reduced to an 82-minute documentary that will be shown at 9:30 p.m. Saturday at the Spirit of the North theater in Fitger's Brewery Complex. It's part of the Sound Unseen International Duluth Film Festival. The film had gotten a scattering of showings at film festivals around the country and a run in Minneapolis in the late 1990s, but it was never shown in Duluth.

"It's a good fit," said festival director Richard Hansen. "We have done a lot of movies on music. We will always retain that theme. And obviously, regional films and the local angle is always something we're interested in."

Besides interviews with Iya at his South Minneapolis home, Greenberg filmed the multi-

instrumentalist performing his reggae-R&B fusion music to enthusiastic crowds in Minneapolis. He had just released his first CD, "Send the Love."

"He was an amazingly charismatic person," said Greenberg, who also considered Iya a friend. "To meet him was a unique experience. He had a fantastic voice and was a very accomplished songwriter."

Greenberg also planned to film more of Iya -- washing his signature waist-long dreadlocks, which took hours, and going to the local co-op grocery store, which he did most days.

"We were going to look at his life, and a couple more performances," Greenberg said.

But on the night of Oct. 16, 1995, as 34-year-old Iya sat with friends in his apartment, two masked men burst in. The others fled. But Iya stayed, trying to reason with the intruders when he was fatally shot.

The murder became the rest of Iya's story in the film.

The irony of a man who believed in peace and harmony being a victim of violence wasn't lost on those who loved him.

And there were many.

Hundreds -- of all races and creeds -- gathered outside his home to celebrate the gentle spirit of a man who had taken the name Iya, meaning brethren or brother. In Duluth, dozens solemnly gathered at his family's home overlooking Lake Superior.

"I had to be talked into covering his memorials and all that because I was so devastated at the time," Greenberg said. "And it all happened so fast, when someone is taken away in a moment."

Greenberg also included news accounts following the slaying and parts of interviews with Iya's parents in the film.

Iya's father, Richard Heim of Duluth, plans to attend the movie's screening to see it for the first time. But he said some family members aren't going because of the painful memories it might stir up.

Heim admitted to having mixed feelings about the film, which was made as a commercial venture looking at five different bands.

"It's preserving his memory," Heim said. "But at the same time, you might say it's incidentally preserving his memory."