Germany, Syria, Lebanon | 2018 | 93 min | Arabic
Exiled Syrian filmmaker Talal Derki returns to his homeland to spend two years undercover with a radical Islamist family. Abu Osama is an Al-Nusra fighter in a small village in northern Syria, and a loving, devoted father to his eight children. He plays with his boys, hugs and kisses them, and they clearly idolise him. But his bedtime stories are about the glory of martyrdom and his work clearing mines, and he is more concerned that his sons learn to recite the Qur’an than that they finish their homework. Outside the family home, we discover a landscape of bombed-out houses and abandoned tanks, which serves as a vast adventure playground for the children. Their games consistently turn to violence, as they throw stones, wrestle rivals to the ground and even construct a home-made explosive device. By the film’s dark conclusion, two of Abu’s sons have been sent to a camp for military training and Sharia studies.
Talal Derki was born in Damascus in 1977. Having studied film direction in Athens, Greece, he worked as an assistant director on feature films, a director in Arabic TV and a cameraman for CNN and Thomson Reuters. Talal’s previous films include the fiction shorts Hello Damascus, Goodbye Damascus (2003) and A Whole Line of Trees (2005), the documentary short Hero of All Seas (2010) and the documentary feature Return to Homs (2013), which was shown at DIFF 2014.
“I wanted to go psychologically inside the society of the jihadis,” he says of his latest work. “I wanted to understand how they become what they are … The film is also about a father’s legacy of violence. In a way, I believe that every father can watch this film and find himself or his father somewhere inside it.”