ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Now let's hear about a war movie that's being filmed as the war happens all around. The Iraqi army and Kurdish forces are battling the Islamic State for control of the city of Mosul. About 50 miles away in the city of Erbil, a Kurdish filmmaker is shooting a drama about some of those who gave their lives in the struggle. NPR's Peter Kenyon visited one of the film sets.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Unintelligible).
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: On the ground floor of a small hospital in Erbil, a film crew squeezes into a corridor to shoot a scene in which a soldier helps his sick, young son to the bathroom.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Action.
KENYON: The film's working title is "A Dream Before Dying." And director Fekri Baroshi says it's based on real-life Iraqi Kurdish soldiers whose job is literally to handle death every day - the bomb technicians who disarm and remove the mines, roadside bombs and booby traps that litter the territory seized by Islamic State fighters. With explosions maiming and killing people just a short distance from here every day, Baroshi says he jumped at the chance to tell their stories in fictional form.
FEKRI BAROSHI: Dr. Suleiman - everyone know him. Just - he died some weeks ago. Fakher Berwari - he die in the same way one year ago.
KENYON: Baroshi means Kurdish bomb technicians Suleiman Chirukaya and Fakher Berwari were both killed by ISIS bombs. Chirukaya's death just weeks ago produced an outpouring of praise and mourning here. He had left a safe home and job in Germany to volunteer in the fight against ISIS and was by many accounts extraordinarily good at disposing of the improvised bombs ISIS fighters spend so much planting.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).
KENYON: "A Dream Before Dying" has another distinctive feature. The female lead in the story, the soldier's wife, is played by Dejin Jamil, billed as the first Yazidi actress with a major role in a feature film. The small religious minority is socially conservative, but Jamil says she found support for her dream of acting right at home.
DEJIN JAMIL: Especially my mom - she said, you know, Dejin, this was also my dream. You make it come true, at least. And I said, OK, I love it, too. Let me do it.
KENYON: Yazidis burst into the news in 2014 when ISIS fighters carried out massacres of Yazidi men in northern Iraq and captured women and girls as sex slaves. Jamil hopes her career - in addition to acting, she does humanitarian work - will offer a more hopeful, encouraging image to Yazidi women.
JAMIL: So I want to show this part of Yazidi women, as well. It's not only being captivated by ISIL, but we have also a strength - Yazidi women working in different areas in life. So this is my plan, actually, to encourage them. Yes.
KENYON: The director of photography, Kurt Braun, is an American from Detroit. I ask him what it's like to be filming on the edge of a war zone.
KURT BRAUN: I didn't notice (laughter). It is amazing to me. Now, we went to an abandoned village, and you look at these homes. And there were homes that somebody's work their life for. And to think about the fact that somebody's going to come for an ideology and just take all of that away from you is - it's disheartening. It's sad.
KENYON: Now the fight against that ideology is raging in northern Iraq. And director Fekri Baroshi says he hopes this film will serve to remind people of some of the Kurds who gave their lives trying to spare others from ISIS's deadly handiwork.
BAROSHI: We want to give this movie as a gift to the - to their life, you know?
KENYON: He says the shooting and post-production schedule is tight and, with any luck, he'll have the film finished by spring of 2017. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Erbil, northern Iraq.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.