Shariff Korver • Director of Do Not Hesitate
“I didn't want to make a film about the bigger picture of the military, but to focus on the experience of being a soldier”
by Teresa Vena
- The Dutch-Venezuelan director is at Tribeca to present his new film dealing with the trauma suffered by young soldiers
Do Not Hesitate [+see also:
interview: Shariff Korver
film profile] by Dutch-Venezuelan director Shariff Korver is premiering at this year's Tribeca Film Festival. We talked to him about the origins of the film, his research and the challenges posed by the shooting location.
Cineuropa: Where did the inspiration for the film come from?
Shariff Korver: The inspiration came from some news articles in the Dutch newspapers. They were about young Dutch soldiers who were taken to a Greek island after they had served for five months on a mission in Afghanistan. The idea was that they would be able to blow off some steam before they went home. They would also have therapy to talk about their experiences and emotions. But actually, something went wrong – they ended up partying, fighting and destroying the island. Some undercover journalists reported on this.
Where did you shoot, exactly?
It was hard to find a location that would resemble the Middle East, without it actually being the Middle East in the first place. We searched in Morocco, Spain, Croatia and Greece. I interviewed a lot of soldiers who went on a mission: many of them said that when they arrived there, they had the feeling that they had just landed on a different planet, as if they had reached Mars or the Moon. The high mountain we found in Crete was rocky and dry; it gave me the impression it might actually seem as if we were on a different planet.
How did you do your research for the film?
We were not able to go to a specific war zone, since the Dutch soldiers were already out of Afghanistan. That’s why I conducted a lot of interviews with soldiers. We were watching documentaries and reading literature to get a sense of what it’s like. The script is inspired by all of these interviews and by the things that happened to some of the soldiers. Of course, a lot of things are invented, too. I didn't want to make a film about the bigger picture of the military, but to focus on the experience of being a soldier, one of the lowest in terms of rank – one who doesn't know about the bigger picture, and actually doesn't know why he is at a specific location.
How did you find the different protagonists?
For the Dutch soldiers, I was very keen on having boys who could really be soldiers, judging by their looks and the way they moved. I knew having non-professional actors would not work, because the roles needed a lot of finesse in the acting. I wanted trained actors, but in this age category, they are more “intellectual”, so they needed time to transform into military personnel. They trained for months, had military advisers and created a camaraderie.
For the young boy, the challenge was to find a very young professional actor. Omar [Alwan] is a Syrian refugee in the Netherlands and was picked for a short film [A Kiss by Nima Mohaghegh], chosen from among 300 kids. He came to the audition and blew us away – he was fearless. We were extremely lucky, since there were not many options.
It’s interesting how you create a threatening atmosphere where there is actually no real threat to speak of. Does the actual danger lie in ourselves?
Yes. Most of the soldiers don't see the enemy, but they still come back with trauma. What happens if you don't see the enemy? You discover the monster in yourself. European soldiers are always on peace missions. But still, everything has to proceed on their terms. As for Erik in the film, he thinks he is helping people, but when his counterpart doesn't react as he wishes him to, he gets confused. This behaviour shows how the Western world treats others.
Do you have any experience in the military yourself?
Luckily not. I grew up in Venezuela, and I left the country before I turned 18. Had I stayed in Venezuela, I would have risked being forced to join the military, though. My grandmother was a psychologist for the military, and for me, it was a fascination and a fear at the same time.
What would you like the ideal audience for the movie to be?
Actually, at the moment, I am happy to have any physical audience at all. I worked hard on the film, for about five months on the editing and five more months on the sound design, in order to create the best cinematic experience possible. We made it for the cinema and not for people to watch on a laptop.
What were the biggest challenges in making this movie?
We were filming on an island, which means that we had to ship everything onto it. We also had to make everything ourselves – the vehicle, the uniforms, the camp. We were on a really remote island, with harsh weather conditions. The wind and sand storms were challenging, and when it wasn't raining, it was very hot and there were a lot of mosquitoes.
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