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Face to face with the Islamic State

French philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy on his new film 'Battle of Mosul'

A brutal, bloody war.

For seven months, Iraqi forces - backed by the US-led coalition - have struggled to wrest control of the city of Mosul in Iraq from the Islamic State.

In recent days, they have made rapid gains against the radical jihadist group, with the Iraqi government hoping to announce victory by May 27, the start of the holy month of Ramadan.

This long, painstaking campaign is the subject of the latest film by French philosopher and filmmaker Bernard-Henri Levy, titled "Battle of Mosul" (Cinéphil, 2017).

Maya Margit/i24NEWS

Levy’s film premiered in Israel at this year’s edition of the Docaviv International Documentary Film Festival in Tel Aviv. Both screenings were completely sold out, with many in the audience sitting in the aisles in a last-ditch effort to catch a glimpse of the highly-anticipated screening.

Filming of “Battle of Mosul” began in October 2016, as did the campaign to liberate the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul.

“When the battle for Mosul was launched, it was evident that we had to be there,” Levy told i24NEWS. “We had to be embedded or accompany the liberators of the city.”

Accompanying the Kurdish Peshmerga and elite Iraqi Special Forces, Levy and his team traveled through the battle-scarred towns and villages IS had destroyed as they made their way to the city itself.

Cinephil, 2017

On several occasions, they came face to face with the extremist militants, and life-threatening situations.

“I was scared for the life of my team, I was scared for myself,” Levy recounted. “I was scared for the civilians around me and the soldiers of course.”

Despite the near-constant sound of bullets whizzing by and explosions throughout the movie, it is the scenes with the Iraqi people that are the most touching.

Such as the one in which a Kurdish fighter is reunited with his mother, in an emotional, tearful encounter on a refugee convoy, after having lost contact with her for two years.

For Levy, it was the scenes that followed the liberation of parts of Mosul that would haunt him forever.

“The souvenir which haunts me – it’s like a ghost since [the filming] - is the scene where you see the population of Mosul running after a lorry with some poor goods, and the guys in the lorry [throw] the packages to them like dogs,” he said, describing a memorable moment in which hundreds of starving Moslawis desperately try to get their hands on packets of food thrown at them from a passing truck.

Cinephil, 2017

The screening of "Battle of Mosul" - Levy's fourth documentary film – in Israel is especially important to him.

He says he sees many parallels between the Kurds and the Jewish people.

“I perceived a sense of attention and quality of emotion in this Israeli audience, which maybe I have not seen [elsewhere],” Levy noted. “This is probably linked to a feeling of a common or shared destiny between the Israelis and the Kurds.”

Recognition of the Kurdish people, their role in the fight against IS, and their struggle for an independent state are perhaps the movie’s most prominent themes.

“They seek and deserve independence,” he asserted. “This independence was promised to them 100 years ago. They paid a heavy price. They are paying now at this very minute for the common fight of civilization against barbarism. They deserve that at the end.”

Cinephil, 2017

Maya Margit is a Culture Correspondent at i24NEWS. You can follow her on Twitter @mayamargit for all the latest updates on the cultural scene in Israel.

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