Rotterdam: Kurdish Filmmakers Describe Shooting a War Drama in an Actual War Zone

The End Will Be Spectacular - Still H - 2020
Credit: Rojava Film Commune

How the team behind 'The End Will Be Spectacular' used tanks left behind by the Islamic State, rubble of a devastated city for their set, and actual Kurdish fighters as actors to make their film.

Amassing enough military equipment and weaponry to make a modern war film is no easy – or inexpensive – feat, especially if you’re working under a tight budget. But it always helps if a retreating army just so happens to have left the necessary guns, tanks and uniforms lying around.

That’s the tactic the filmmakers of the Rojava Film Commune, based in the autonomous Kurdish region of northeastern Syria, deployed in making The End Will Be Spectacular, showing at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, where the group also gave the annual Freedom Lecture on Sunday night.

The bloody and explosive drama is set against the 2016 Siege of Sur, in which a small group of Kurdish resistance fighters held out against Turkish police and military to try to defend their district in the city of Diyarbakir. The deadly episode in the ongoing Kurdish-Turkish conflict would last for three months, with Turkey eventually flattening much of the historic area.

For security reasons, director Ersin Celik and his team shot The End Will Be Spectacular just over the border in Kobani, the Kurdish-controlled Syrian city that famously came under a deadly and destructive six-month siege by the Islamic State in late 2014. And it was the hardware – including armored vehicles – left behind by ISIS that they were able to use in the film.

“The tanks ISIS had stolen from the Syrian regime,” says producer Diyar Hesso. “Most of them were broken, but we just had to paint them, put some gas inside and get them working.”

For the uniforms and batons of the Turkish police, the filmmakers used those left behind by Syrian authorities, who had controlled the city until it became part of Kurdish territories. “Again, we just painted them to make them look like the ones from Turkey,” says Celik.

In a similar fashion, the filmmakers were also able to utilize the real-life devastation wrought by ISIS’ attacks on the city for their sets. One large patch of rubble, it turns out, looks much like another. “The destruction is actually very similar to that by the Turkish state,” says Hesso. “It’s of course very sad, but it gave us opportunities.”

During the shoot, while the battle with ISIS may have mostly left Kobani (although there were infrequent attacks that required the filmmakers to have military protection), the war against the Islamic State still raged elsewhere in Syria.

And given that most of the cast of The End Will Be Spectacular was made up of actual Kurdish fighters – almost all in their first acting roles – this presented a rather unique movie-making complication.

“They came from the front line, fighting ISIS, and took free time to go to the shoot,” explains co-producer Alba Sotorra, adding that they then had to persuade them to stay to finish the shoot rather than return to the fighting.

“At that time, Turkey had started attacking the city of Afrin, and it was very hard for them emotionally because they knew their comrades and friends were dying,” says Hesso. “They were telling us they wanted to go and fight, not act in a film. It was also emotional for us to convince them of the importance of such a movie.”

Adds Sotorra: "And such a movie is another form of fighting."