I never planned on entering a warzone. I’m a filmmaker; I’m more comfortable in an environment that I control. But Maria Bello called me looking for a female filmmaker and we ended up having breakfast, where she told me about the Yazidi women warriors. After the meal, I walked back to my car and called my parents. As I described the story of these women, I started crying, and I realized I had no choice but to do this. These women represent everything I believe in.
When people think of women in wartime, or women in troubled parts of the world, they think of victims, or caretakers, or other traditional female roles. We’re trying to break that narrative. These Yazidi women are fighting for their survival. ISIS is committing unthinkable atrocities against them: mass rape, mass murder, sexual slavery. So the women are picking up weapons and fighting back. They are role models. They’ve been through the worst things you can imagine, and they still have the bravery and strength to go to war against the people trying to destroy them.
Leaps of Faith
Absolutely nothing about this experience was planned out — we created the film entirely in post-production. When Maria finally got enough money to cover the travel to Iraq, she called me on a Wednesday and asked if I could be in Iraq that next Tuesday.
So nearly everything was improvised. It’s not a traditional documentary; rather, it’s structured as a train of thought, almost stream of consciousness. Visually, we looked for shots that gave depth to the voiceover — counterpoints or juxtapositions, rather than straightforward illustrations of what’s being described. We wanted to be true to our subjects, who they are, how they think.
Getting into the country and getting across checkpoints was intense: our VR camera is large and advanced and looks like a bundle of cables. In other words, it looks like a bomb. So we had to hide it in the car. It was my co-director Christian Stephen’s 27th time in Iraq; he and our co-producer Dylan Roberts are both war journalists, and they knew which places were safe, which people to avoid, etc. I had to give up control and just trust. We journeyed across the desert for seven hours and spent several days with the women near the Iraq-Syria border, as well as in refugee camps (which are often even more dangerous than the rest of the warzone).
Ordinary People, Extraordinary Circumstances
One specific shot is most frequently mentioned as a viewer favorite — and it’s not the beautiful landscapes or the fighting scenes. It’s the women eating lunch. The camera is with them at the table: you’re seeing what they’re eating. That’s noteworthy from a VR storytelling perspective, because it probably would not have made it into a 2D film. Sharing a meal is a powerful act of community — it’s a hardwired human experience. You see how they behave with each other, how they pass bread. You see how they eat — and you see who they are. They are not superheroes; they’re like us, normal women, but in extraordinary circumstances.
A lot of viewers cry during screenings, and not just from the tragic circumstances highlighted in the piece; we thought it might be helpful to have viewers write out their feelings in letter form. Even better, we will share those letters with the soldiers from the film: morale in wartime is just as important as ammunition. Next time we go back to Iraq, we’ve already got 400 letters to bring with us.
This was a passion project: a very small team who donated their time and skills to make it happen. The impact of the finished experience comes from the dedication of this beautiful team: Maria Bello, Christian Stephen, Dylan Roberts, Wesley Allsbrook, Ed Harcourt, Tim Gedemer, and Mark Simpson. And of course, the incredible patience of the unbelievable women in the film.
Celine Tricart’s work has been showcased in festivals including the Sundance Film Festival, SXSW, the Austin Film Festival, the Clermont Ferrand Film Festival and the Chicago Film Festival. Celine was the recipient of a Creative Award by the Advanced Imaging Society, amongst many other accolades.
Celine Tricart is also a world-renowned 3D and virtual reality expert. As such, she worked on cutting-edge films including the first French 3D feature filmBehind the Walls, making her the first-ever female feature film stereographer (aka stereoscopic 3D supervisor) in the world. She wrote two books published by Focal Press and available worldwide: 3D Filmmaking and Virtual Reality Filmmaking.