Dutch filmmaker Shariff Korver first read a newspaper article about young Dutch soldiers blowing off steam on a Greek party island seven years ago. 

He was haunted by the story of the soldiers’ tour of Afghanistan, their misbehaviour in Greece and the hours of therapy and debriefing they went through before returning home to their families. 

The result is Do Not Hesitate, the Netherlands’  Oscar submission and Korver’s second feature.

“The thoughts and imagery of what those soldiers had been through and their bottled-up feelings stayed with me,” Korver explains during a Q&A for Screen International’s For Your Consideration Oscar race Screening Series.

Watch the full Q&A above.

Set in an unnamed country in the Middle East, Do Not Hesitate is Korver’s take on a war film. It tells the story of a platoon of Dutch soldiers engaged in a peace-keeping mission, a local goat herder and the terror of modern-day war with an unseen enemy

Korver reveals he was determined audiences would believe his cast could be real soldiers and “not actors pretending to be real soldiers.” 

However he auditioned real soldiers but couldn’t make it work because the dialogue-heavy physical roles were too challenging for non-actors.

The production hired a veteran to train the young actors, turned them into soldiers physically and put them up in an apartment to live together to create “that sense of camaraderie you get in the military.” 

The casting of real-life Syrian refugee Omar Alwan (who lives in the Netherlands) in the film’s pivotal role as a young goat herd boy was the most challenging. “Where do you find a kid of that age (15), with that temperament, energy and fearlessness?,” says the director. “We searched all over the world and by chance we found him in Holland.”

Alwan had taken part in drama classes organised by a group of theatre directors and filmmakers for Dutch asylum seekers. He was cast in a short film two years before Korver came calling. “We saw that short during our research for the film. His audition was so strong I immediately told everyone to call off the search.”

Shot in Crete to capture a dry, rocky otherworldliness, a couple of shooting days were lost to wind storms and other challenges included the extreme temperature contrasts of cold nights and hot days. “And when the mosquitoes want to ruin your day they definitely will,” says Shariff. 

For Shariff such challenges fed into the performances and informed the authentic look and feel of the unfolding story.