Men and women journeying to Syria and Iraq to fight on behalf of the Islamic States is not a new phenomenon. What we rarely hear about is Western volunteers who decide to join Kurdish armies in their fight against Isis. It’s the latter that director Julien Fréchette’s documentary My War explores.

While many claim that they felt a calling to do good, Fréchette‘s film suggests something more might be at play. Through volunteers such as Wali, a professional soldier who did two tours in Afghanistan, and Hanna, a woman who signed up for YPJ, a female run unit in the Kurdish army, it becomes clear that liberation of the oppressed is not their sole driving force.

In fact, they seem to be searching for something to fill a void, an emptiness that they cannot quite name. Wali and Hanna are eager to get into the action, believing it will give their otherwise bland lives meaning. However, once within the Kurdish army, they find frustration in the lack of actual combat they see. Months go by with them watching the war from a distance.

With the air forces inflicting most of the damages, Fréchette raises interesting questions regarding who is benefiting most from the presence of Western fighters? Is it the Kurdish army who can use them for propaganda? Or the Westerners chasing a high that only war can provide?

Western fighters view being in Syria as freedom from the mundane, but it is their lust for war that shackles them. Their need to be “in the action” is like a drug more potent and meaningful than the family they leave behind in North America. Their emotional detachment from the violence is disturbing, ad they are downright giddy to see explosions up close.

One Westerner proudly states that he is happiest in chaos. One wonders though, due to My War’s complicated and somber exploration of the quest for personal meaning, if the chaos simply allows them to hide the void lingering within.

Sunday, April 29, 6 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
Tuesday, May 1, 12:30 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
Thursday, May 3, 3:30 PM, Scotiabank Theatre