Photographer Revisits Abandoned Movie Sets for Star Wars and Other Classic Films in North Africa

Tunisia

Making a movie? Need to shoot some large-scale desert scenes? You might consider taking your production to North Africa, where you’ll find not only a great many acres of sand, but will follow in the footsteps of some of the twentieth century’s highest-profile filmmakers. Just above, you see a picture of one of the many Star Wars sets still standing in Tozeur, Tunisia, 36 years after the shoot. New York photographer Rä di Martino has taken it upon herself to determine the locations and collect images of these cinematic ruins in the projects “No More Stars” and “Every World’s a Stage.” Given the surprisingly sound condition of some of these sets — that dry air must have something to do with it — I foresee an entrepreneurial opportunity in the vein of all those New Zealand Lord of the Rings fan tours.

Even if Star Wars doesn’t get you excited enough to book a trip to Tunisia, a visit to Morocco may still interest you. Di Martino’s short Petite histoire des plateaux abandonnès (Short History of Abandoned Sets) seeks out more such long-silent fake towns, fortresses, and gas stations around Ouarzazate, originally used for everything from cheap horror movies to Lawrence of Arabia. There, a group of kids recites, deadpan, scenes from the various productions that swung through town well before they were born. These surviving chunks of artifice, meant only for the camera, have found the camera again — or, rather, the camera has found them — with results that now look more interesting than many of the major films that commissioned them.

Related Content:

The Making of The Empire Strikes Back Showcased on Long-Lost Dutch TV Documentary

Hundreds of Fans Collectively Remade Star Wars; Now They Remake The Empire Strikes Back

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.


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  • Rhonda Jones says:

    Why wasn’t “Hollywood” made to clean up the abandoned junk. We mess up other countries landscapes.
    Could not have done that here, unless the town wanted to use it to attract tourists. From what I saw the only tourist attracted to that pile of junk happened to be two boys.

    And why is he playing that instrument, does not lend anything to the scenery.

  • Margaret Rose STRINGER says:

    One of my reasons for not being in love with working in the film industry, a thousand or so years back, was the kind of careless-of-everyone-else attitude that had crews (occasionally) simply walking away from what they’d created as if it were someone else’s problem. Detestable.
    I’d be happier if there were nothing for this excellent photographer to shoot.

  • Eddie says:

    Please stop with your pitiful whining about nothing. Do you complain when we go to War? Do you bitch about it like this? Probably not.

    Besides, these sets? They’re NOT WHERE PEOPLE LIVE. They like them there, because it’s generally better than having nothing. And we gave the locals jobs at the time. These places are in the middle of nowhere. See any major city centers?

    And the flute playing is an inside joke. Learn film and stop bitching. Shit.

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