PopPolitics: ‘Hell on Earth’ Director on the ‘Risk-Reward’ of Filming in Syria (Listen)

The National Geographic documentary “Hell on Earth: The Fall of Syria and the Rise of ISIS” drew on more than 1,000 hours of footage and interviews in the war-torn region, proving to be a major challenge for the filmmakers in weighing the safety of journalists on the project.

The movie spotlights a family living under in an area under ISIS control, Shia militias in Iraq, Kurdish fighters in Sinjar and Al Qaeda operatives in Aleppo and Raqqa.

“We analyzed the risk reward on many things,” said Nick Quested, who directed “Hell on Earth” along with Sebastian Junger. “We had many interviews that seemed to be very attractive, and we would decide if these were safe to do. I don’t speak Arabic, so even in an interview it is an egotistical endeavor to go just to do the interview when you can send a journalist who you have prepped and trained who is local to the country and has much less value as a kidnap victim. So the chances of them kidnapping a Syrian are much smaller than a western journalist.”

The movie, which opened this weekend in New York and Los Angeles and airs next month on National Geographic, examines the roots of the Syrian civil war and the emergence of ISIS, but also fears of what lies ahead when it comes to the war on terror. They also feature chilling footage of Mohammed Merah, the extremist responsible for a string of attacks in 2012 in Toulouse, France. The documentary features video shot from a chest cam that Merah was wearing as he hunted down a French soldier and shot him.

“That was the first time you have seen the bold evilness of first person jihad,” Quested said, adding that Merah continues to be a “poster boy” for lone-wolf jihadists.

Quested also talks about why he thinks the recent U.S. airstrikes on a Syrian air base had little impact on the Assad regime’s actions.

“I think what is really going to have an impact is the arming of the SDF, which are the Kurdish militias … in the eastern parts of Syria,” he said. “I think the arming of that is going to aggravate the Turks an enormous amount. The Turks are especially sensitive to Kurdish empowerment in the region and I think that is much more significant and long lasting and potentially power balancing changing in the region.”

Listen below:

Quested also talks about interviewing Michael Flynn before he became a key figure in the Trump campaign and later served a brief tenure as national security adviser. In the movie, Flynn actually warns that the motives of ISIS are to instill terror — and that it could spill over into politics and the exploitation of issues like immigration.

Listen below:

‘Bannon’s War’

Michael Kirk, director of the new Frontline documentary “Bannon’s War,” talks of how White House chief strategist Steve Bannon has influenced the White House so far — and how he’s likely to as the administration grapples with crisis.

Listen below:

“PopPolitics,” hosted by Variety’s Ted Johnson, airs from 2-3 p.m. ET/11 a.m.-noon PT on SiriusXM’s political channel POTUS. It also is available on demand.


More Biz

  • Leaving Neverland HBO

    'Leaving Neverland' Lawsuit Proves to Be a Judicial Hot Potato

    The Michael Jackson estate sued HBO last month for airing the documentary “Leaving Neverland,” which accuses the late King of Pop of serial child sexual abuse. Since then, the case has had a difficult time finding a judge to handle it. Three federal judges have recused themselves in the last week, citing potential financial conflicts [...]

  • Members of the public mourn at

    Guy Oseary’s New Zealand Fundraiser Nears $150,000, Continues Raising Money

    In the wake of the horrific shootings at New Zealand mosques last week that killed some 49 people, Maverick chief Guy Oseary launched a GoFundMe campaign to “support those affected by this tragedy at this very difficult time,” and began it with an $18,000 donation. Boosted by donations from many celebrities — including Amy Schumer, [...]

  • Cesar Sayoc Headshot

    Florida Man Pleads Guilty in CNN Pipe Bomb Case

    A Florida man pleaded guilty Thursday to sending pipe bombs to CNN and prominent critics of President Donald Trump. Cesar Sayoc appeared in federal court in New York, where he pleaded to 65 counts stemming from the mailing of 16 devices. He faces life in prison, plus 120 months, at his sentencing on Sept. 12. [...]

  • Tencent Profits Hit $1 Billion Per

    Tencent Profits Hit $1 Billion per Month as Company Loses Fizz

    Growing regulatory encroachments into its games business, a smaller than expected spin-off for its music division, and a fourth quarter profits drop, pointed to a troubling year for Chinese tech giant Tencent. Its financial results for the full 2018 period, while delivering profits of nearly $1 billion a month, appeared to bear out that thesis. [...]

  • splice

    Splice Raises $57.5 Million in Latest Funding Round

    Splice, a favorite of music creators that allows access to a library of three million rights-cleared sounds, announced today that the company closed a Series C funding round at $57.5 million. That brings Splice’s total amount raised to roughly $102 million since its launch in 2013. It raised a Series B in November of 2017. [...]

  • WGA Agents Contract Tug of War

    WGA Leaders to Meet With Showrunners on Agency Packaging Fight (EXCLUSIVE)

    WGA leaders are set to meet Wednesday night with a group of showrunners who are raising concerns about the guild’s handling of negotiations with talent agents over the issue of packaging fees and agency-affiliated productions. The meeting is set for 7:30 p.m. at WGA West headquarters. WGA West president David Goodman is expected to attend. [...]

  • Bill Murray St Vincent 2014

    Weinstein Co. Sued Over Trademark Infringement in Bill Murray Film

    A horse-racing announcer has sued the Weinstein Co., claiming that the company infringed on his trademarked phrase in a 2014 Bill Murray movie. Dave Johnson is the man behind “And down the stretch they come!,” which he began using while calling races in Illinois in the 1960s. The phrase took off when Johnson moved to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content