ISIS documentary 'Rojek' selected as Canada's contender for Oscar nomination

TORONTO — The political documentary "Rojek," featuring interviews with imprisoned Islamic State members, is Canada's contender vying for anomination in the best international feature film categoryat next year'sAcademy Awards.

Telefilm Canada announced Thursday that it would submit the feature by Montreal-based filmmaker Zaynê Akyol, who hopes the project will drawattention to crimes committed against Kurdish soldiers and civilians fighting for freedom amid a jihadist siege.

“We didn’t really expect this kind of thing because it is such a demanding documentary to watch…a documentary that confronts people,” Akyol said in a virtual press conference announcing the selection.

In their interviews, jihadist detainees share extremist ideologies and dreams of establishing a caliphate. Through their personal narratives the film charts the origins, ascension, and decline of the Islamic State group (ISIS), with the specific aim of understanding, rather than vilifying, those views, the filmmaker adds.

“As a Kurdish woman myself who is trying to understand that indoctrination, it’s quite a risky choice and it’s courageous of the committee to choose a film such as this.”

The selectionwas made by a committee of approximately 16 members who represent government agencies and film industry associations.

Following the loss of friends and loved ones to the Islamic State, Akyol was motivated to engage with people all over the world whoharbour extremist ideologies, aiming to gain a deeper understanding of the conflict.

"Documentarians believe in what they do," said Akyol. "It's not just about getting an Oscar," she adds, noting filmmakers often want to inspire a change in policy or draw attention to an urgent matter, such as the violence the film portrays taking place in northeastern Syria.

Akyol's interactions with both Islamic State members and their families take center stage as they articulate persistent endeavours to establish a government based on Islamic principles.

“We’re not here to judge these people,” said co-producer Sylvain Corbeil from Metafilms in Montréal. “This is an attempt to understand and we are presenting points of view that are well-shaded at different levels.”

The film combines close-up shots of ISIS members interspersed with aerial and grounded views of Syria.

Blending Arabic, English, French, and Kurdish languages, the documentary premiered in Canadian cinemasin January and is currently available to rent online.

Each country is limited to making a single submission, which the Academy will dwindle down to a short list on Dec. 21. The nominations will be announced on Jan. 23, 2024.

If chosen, "Rojek" would mark the ninth Canadian film to secure an Oscar nomination in that category.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 24, 2023.

The Canadian Press