It’s hard enough making your first feature film. But Matthew Michael Carnahan achieved this with what might look to an onlooker like having a metaphorical arm and a leg tied behind his back. He shot Mosul both in a language he didn’t speak and in a foreign country. But according to Carnahan, whose previous work includes the screenplays for brawny films like The Kingdom and Deepwater Horizon, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Mosul is in many ways a true oddity in the filmic landscape. It was made with all the resources and support of a Hollywood production but features no performers familiar to American audiences. Carnahan, with the backing of Avengers directors Joe and Anthony Russo (who produced the film), took a gamble that audiences would be willing to experience the story of a SWAT team fighting ISIS the way it is lived: in the region’s native dialect. According to him, it was the only way to capture the authenticity of the source text, Luke Mogelson’s 2017 New Yorker article “The Desperate Battle to Destroy ISIS.”

As Mosul begins its trip around the fall festival circuit, I spoke to Carnahan about how Mosul came to be and what he hoped to achieve through its unique production.

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