An animated noise is heard in the far northeast of the Syrian town of Hajar al-Aswad, which was a major ISIS stronghold. The racket is made by a Chinese film crew shooting an action movie produced by Jackie Chan called “Home Operation”.
Hajar al-Aswad, which means “black rock” in Arabic, was once a densely populated suburb of Damascus located next to the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmuk.
The city has two main districts called “Tishreen” and “Thawra”.
Hajar al-Aswad was home to the largest concentration of displaced people from the occupied Golan since the June 1967 war, and was one of the first areas to witness protests against the regime in spring 2011, before be controlled by opposition factions in 2012.
The city then fell to ISIS from mid-2015 to 2018.
In 2018, Syrian regime forces, with the support of Russia, were able to regain control of Hajar al-Aswad through a vicious and destructive military campaign.
Slices of Hajar al-Aswad were completely leveled as the campaign erased 80% of the city’s infrastructure.
“War-torn areas in Syria have turned into a movie studio. These regions attract film producers,” said director Rawad Shahin, who is part of the film’s Syrian team.
“Building similar studios in these areas is very expensive, so these areas are considered low-cost studios,” he said.
The production team says it plans to use several other filming locations in Syria, where Iranian and Russian productions have also been filmed.
While visiting one of the streets of Hajar al-Aswad, where one of the film’s scenes was shot, Asharq Al-Awsat discovered a group of residents who were forbidden by the crew from inspecting their homes destroyed by the war because filming was in progress.
They were forced to take a longer route home, much to their frustration.
They expressed their displeasure at how locals were turned away from their homes, while foreigners filming the film were allowed to roam freely.
“Isn’t it better for the government to rebuild the destroyed neighborhoods and for the foreigners to make a film about the return of the refugees to their homes,” said one of the residents cynically.