The women who took on ISIL - film follows female Kurdish resistance fighters

Filming has started on the feature debut of French journalist Caroline Fourest. She tells The National about the remarkable story behind it

A women's brigade in Kurdistan. Photo by Fiammetta Venner
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Renowned French journalist, Caroline Fourest is making her feature debut with Red Snake, a political film that follows a battalion of female fighters who join the Kurdish resistance against ISIL.

The film, inspired by true events, tells the story of Zara, a young Yazidi who was kidnapped and sold as a sex slave to an ISIL fighter. Managing to escape her captors, she decides to take revenge by joining an international battalion of women called the Snake brigade, who take part in the Kurdish resistance.

Zara, played by Dilan Gwyn, develops a strong solidarity with other women in the battalion, such as Kenza, a young French-Algerian whose sister was killed by extremists, American Sniper, a female soldier who fought in Iraq, and Mother Sun, an Italian leftist who was raped in her youth.

All of them share a common goal: to punish their oppressors who are capturing and raping women and causing bloodshed in the region. And they have a secret weapon: ISIL fanatics are terrified of being killed by women, as they believe this will stop them from going to heaven.

"What we see happening in those war zones, it's the worst illustration of female oppression and male domination," Fourest told The National.

“It is horrible, but it is also powerful in equal measure. This is our generation’s world war.”

Very well known in France, Fourest first became interested in radicalism, both political and religious, at an early age and has been examining it for 20 years in books and articles. She also writes extensively on feminism, equality and refugees.

She has directed 21 social and political documentaries, including Our Weapons for France 2, and Parks of Peace: Nelson Mandela's Last Dream for Arte, the Franco-German TV network.

But she says that only cinema could truly capture her latest topic, Kurdish female fighters. “I didn’t want to make another documentary film on these women – only cinema can really embody their emotions,” she says.

A former journalist at Charlie Hebdo, she lost many friends and colleagues in the attack of January 7, 2015. Her friend Charb, one of the journalists killed in the attack, admired the Kurdish women fighters. Fourest started writing her script shortly after the attack, and has dedicated Red Snake to Charb.

“I think it’s time we show the real heroes,” she said. 

It is this interest in the true heroes of war that took her to the mountains around Shingal and Mosul, where she met the women fighters who became the subject of her upcoming film.

“As soon as I heard the first stories of the women who managed to escape, I decided to learn all I could about these survivors,” she says. “Their stories are beyond fiction.”

A women's brigade in Kurdistan. Photo by Caroline Fourest
A women's brigade in Kurdistan. Photo by Caroline Fourest

Zara’s abduction mixes several testimonies of Yazidi women who had been abducted and raped, and who subsequently became fighters with the resistance, side by side with Peshmergas, or YPJ.

It has a coming-of-age feel, as we see the growing camaraderie between the female fighters, their bravery and their refusal to be victims.

“In the years to come, there will certainly be other films that will evoke this war,” she says. “Many will focus on its dark side. My film does not deny it, but rather it foc­uses on the bright side: the resistance.”

Fourest has assembled an impressive international cast, including Gwyn (known from Beyond), Camélia Jordana (Some Like It Veiled), Razane Jammal (Djinn) and Jasmine Trinca (The Gunman).

The movie will be shot in the Mena region, as well as in the Kurdish region itself. Fourest also plans to bring some real Kurdish women fighters to play extras in certain scenes.


Read more:

Kurdish women on the battle front with ISIL in Syria - in pictures