- Of Fathers and Sons
- Talal Derki Made His Documentary About Jihadists in Syria By Pretending to Join Their Holy War
- Streaming: Of Fathers and Sons – undercover with trainee jihadis
Of Fathers and Sons
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By the end, one of these boys will be a part of a unique ritual for children in parts of the world, learning to be a part of a militia. Watching young men become militarized is one of those gut-churning documentary topics. Derki was born in Syria and now lives in Berlin, but returned to his homeland posing as a war photographer sympathetic to the jihadist cause. Derki became a part of their family and got to know their children, focusing on his two eldest sons, Osama 13 and Ayman Osama was born six years later to the day.
Anne Thompson. Think of an undercover cop pretending to be an outlaw in order to find incriminating evidence, or a soldier traveling incognito behind enemy lines during wartime. Now imagine a westernized Syrian filmmaker who identifies as a liberal Muslim going to Syria and embedding with radical Islamists by pretending to be one of them. People around the world know only about the Syrian tragedy. I wished to make a film more about the masculine authority that takes the war in the direction of a more holy war. The film can be connected to people who have no connection to the Syrian War.
The crowd-pleasers won out. Free Solo , a dazzling National Geographic spectacle, took the prize, with staid bio-doc RBG presumed to be close behind, while more experimental critical darlings Hale County This Morning, This Evening and the remarkable, forthcoming Minding the Gap were just happy to be nominated. But after surprising many pundits by cracking the lineup, the fifth nominee got lost in the shuffle, even though it is arguably the boldest film of the lot. His reckless, unrepeatable feat in Of Fathers and Sons is to insert himself into a jihadist family in the al-Nusra front, persuading patriarch Abu Osama that he is himself a sympathetic jihadist photojournalist. Needless to say, the ensuing study of radicalisation in action is not the glorifying portrait Osama has in mind. Drawing limited attention to his presence, Derki observes as Osama puts his posse of young sons through their al-Nusra paces, taking them out of school to educate them personally in sharia law, before sending the older boys to a military training camp of jaw-dropping intensity and cruelty. Derki took the same eyewitness approach to his first movie, Return to Homs , in — another widely acclaimed Sundance champion that got a modest UK release.
If you want to tame your nightmares, you need to capture them first. As in his previous film Return to Homs , he returns to his homeland and becomes part of life in a war zone. For more than two years he lives with the family of Abu Osama, an Al-Nusra fighter in a small village in northern Syria, focusing his camera mainly on the children. The horrors of war and the intimacy of family life are never far from one another. At the nearby battlefront Abu Osama fights against the enemy, while at home he cuddles with the boys and dreams of the caliphate. Talal Derki sets out to capture the moment when the children have to let go of their youth and are finally turned into Jihadi fighters.
Talal Derki Made His Documentary About Jihadists in Syria By Pretending to Join Their Holy War
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Streaming: Of Fathers and Sons – undercover with trainee jihadis
By Matthew Carey. Deep in the credits for the documentary Of Fathers and Sons comes a startling notation—a mention of the firm that supplied kidnapping and ransom insurance. Derki posed as a filmmaker sympathetic to jihadi ideology to gain the trust of Abu Osama, one of the founders of Al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda. He spent two and a half years living in close quarters with Osama and his brood of children, including year-old Osama and his brother, year-old Ayman. The picture he paints is a disturbing and paradoxical one. Although Osama clearly loves his young sons—roughly eight of them populate the film—he loves the idea of establishing an Islamic caliphate more.
A cheerful preteen boy finds a bird and shows it to his father. The father recommends that he kill the bird so their family can eat it. In order to make the movie, Derki, a Syrian Kurd who fled the war and had taken up residence in Berlin, posed as a jihad-sympathetic documentarian and gained the full trust of the al-Nusra warriors for years. The resulting piece of work is eerily calm and casually jaw-dropping in the way it sheds light on what motivates ordinary people to become genocidal death-cultists. We caught up with Derki during a recent trip to New York City and talked about the remarkable filming process, watching young boys get trained to be murderers, and how this movie has endangered and continues to endanger his life. How did you find your main subject, Abu Osama?