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OF FATHERS AND SONS

Synopsis

After his Sundance award-winning documentary RETURN TO HOMS, Talal Derki returned to his homeland where he gained the trust of a radical Islamist family, sharing their daily life for over two years. His camera focuses primarily on the children, providing an extremely rare insight into what it means to grow up with a father whose only dream is to establish an Islamic caliphate. Osama (13) and his brother Ayman (12) both love and admire their father and obey his words, but while Osama seems content to follow the path of Jihad, Ayman wants to go back to school. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize for World Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival, OF FATHERS AND SONS is a work of unparalleled intimacy that captures the chilling moment when childhood dies and jihadism is born.

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The Filmmakers

Talal Derki Director

Talal Derki was born in Damascus and is based in Berlin since 2014. He studied film directing in Athens and worked as an assistant director for many feature film productions and was a director for different Arab TV programs between 2009 and 2011. Furthermore, he worked as a freelance cameraman for CNN and Thomson & Reuters. Talal Derkis short films and feature length documentaries received many awards at a variety of festivals. His feature documentary RETURN TO HOMS has won the Sundance Film Festival’s World Cinema Grand Jury Prize in 2014. The same year, he was also a member of the international Jury at IDFA.

Festivals & Awards

Sundance Film Festival

2018

World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary

Syrian filmmaker Talal Derki was most recently at the Sundance Film Festival in 2014 with The Return to Homs, which won the World Cinema Documentary Grand Jury Prize. Once again, Derki returns to his homeland, upping the ante of danger to new heights by posing as a pro-jihadist photojournalist making a documentary on the rise of the caliphate. The result is an unfettered vérité portrait of al-Nusra general Abu Osama—a radical Islamist leader and loving father—and the gaggle of young boys who idolize him. Chief among these boys is the leader’s son Osama, named after Dad’s personal hero, Osama bin Laden.

In this remote village in northern Syria, a landscape of bombed-out homes, abandoned tanks, and minefields becomes a playground for young boys taught to stone any girls who dare to show their faces in public. Schools have been decimated. Education consists of reciting the Koran and attending military training camp. Bedtime stories regale the glory of martyrdom. With unparalleled intimacy, Of Fathers and Sons captures that chilling moment when childhood dies and jihadism is born.

+ Festival Website

IDFA

2018

If you want to tame your nightmares, you need to capture them first. That’s what Syrian documentary filmmaker Talal Derki learned from his father. 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. From a young age, the boys are trained to follow in their father’s footsteps and become soldiers of God. 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. No matter how close the war comes, there's one thing they've already learned: they must never cry. 

+ Festival Website

Reviews

"An audacious feat of documentarian access."”

-Neil Young, Hollywood Reporter

"Clear, vivid, unshakable. The sheer level of personal danger-zone access secured by Derki is something to marvel and puzzle over. Sincerely eye-popping in its portrayal of inherited Islamist fervor."”

-Guy Lodge, Variety

"A chilling look at extremism on its home front."”

-Daniel Schindel, The Film Stage