Rojek: Unsettlingly Intimate Portraits of Islamic State Militants in Devastated Syrian Kurdistan

London, United Kingdom – “Rojek,” a documentary film directed by Zayne Akyol, delves into the haunting aftermath of the Syrian civil war, a conflict that has been largely overshadowed by other news events. The film presents a series of interviews with current prisoners from the Islamic State (IS) who are now held in high-security prisons by the Syrian Democratic Forces. Akyol explores their lives and experiences, revealing surprising and unsettling depths behind these individuals who were once part of a feared terrorist organization.

The interviews conducted by Akyol showcase a wide range of perspectives from former IS members. Some remain unrepentant, holding steadfast to their beliefs of fighting in a holy war, while others have profound regrets and a desire for redemption. The film captures each person’s story with intimate close-ups, highlighting their humanity despite their repugnant past actions.

In addition to the interviews, “Rojek” incorporates impressive cinematography that captures the war-torn landscape of Syrian Kurdistan. High-resolution cameras, including drones, reveal the beauty and devastation of the region. The film juxtaposes scenes of destroyed architecture and fires burning in fields with captivating shots of everyday life, such as a party in a garden. It also showcases the powerful presence of female soldiers from the Kurdish Women’s Protection Unit, who remain vigilant against the lingering threat of IS sleeper cells.

Director Zayne Akyol brings a personal connection to the film, having been born in Kurdistan and raised in Quebec. Her previous documentary, “Gulistan, Land of Roses,” examined the story of a family friend who joined the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. “Rojek” builds upon this thematic exploration, shifting the focus to the voices of Islamic zealots and shedding light on gender dynamics and misogyny within the IS.

Unlike traditional documentaries, “Rojek” avoids providing a broader narrative or explanation of the Syrian civil war. Instead, Akyol invites viewers on a visceral journey, prompting them to listen closely to the prisoners’ stories and seek understanding. The craftsmanship of the film elevates the viewing experience, leaving audiences in awe of the director’s dedicated effort to secure permissions for these unprecedented interviews.

“Rojek” will be released on January 19, 2024, at Bertha DocHouse in London. The film offers a thought-provoking and unsettling exploration of the lives and perspectives of former Islamic State militants, urging audiences to confront the complexities of human nature even within the darkest corners of society.