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


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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Comments (3)
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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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