Germany, Syria, Lebanon, Qatar 2017

Synopsis

Talal Derki’s new documentary tells the story the young generation in Syria and asks about the future of children, who grew up in the war.

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.

Directors Statement

As an activist against the Assad regime, I followed my friends in Homs with the camera since the beginning of the demonstrations in spring 2011. I always wanted to experience and document my country’s quest for freedom - a freedom that allows the coexistence of all ethnic groups and religions in Syria and would allow me and my family to return to my home country. I was full of hope and euphoria first, then greatly disappointed by the growing confrontations between the radical groups. Today, the situation in my country is more broken than ever and my dream is fading away.

After my film RETURN TO HOMS, which was about the young rebel Basit Sarout and his comrades, I wanted to go deeper. I wanted to penetrate the psychology and the emotions of this war, understand what made people radicalize and what drives them to live under the strict rules of an Islamic state. In the media, war is often portrayed as a chess game and Islam is labeled as evil. If we see the images of war, we get the feeling that it is a non-real parallel world. In FATHERS & SONS, I want to establish a direct relationship between the protagonists and the audience. I would like to take my audience with me on my journey and communicate with them through my camera.

The main characters of my film are Abu Osama (45), one of the founders of Al-Nusra, the Syrian arm of Al-Qaeda, and his two eldest sons Osama (13) and Ayman (12). I have been living with them over the period of 2 1/2 years and became a part of their family.
Although I am an atheist, I prayed with them every day and led the life of a good Muslim to find out, what is happening in my country. Abu Osama is not only a loving father, but also a specialist for car bomb attacks and the disposal of mines. He deeply believes in an Islamic society under the laws of the Shari'ah, the Caliphate, and therefore he also places his children at its service.

I follow Osama and Ayman to a training camp for young fighters and start to understand how the children are affected, as they really do not have a chance to choose freely. How will I become who I am? Where is hope? What will the future look like? What choices do we have? The children are those who enable us to emotionally experience and understand the complex tragedy of Syria. Often, they are the ones who can look through all the
madness, and in their own childlike way, they can save hope.

FATHERS & SONS is my personal journey through a devastated country and a troubled society, looking for answers to my desperate questions about the future of my country and the future of my family who had to flee into exile.

Director's Biography

Talal Derki was born in Damascus and has been 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 various Arab TV programs between 2009 and 2011. He also worked as a freelance cameraman for CNN and Thomas & Reuters. His short films
and feature length documentaries have received awards at film festivals, most notably his feature documentary RETRUN TO HOMS, which won Sundance Film Festival’s World Cinema Grand Jury Prize in 2014. He won the same award with his most recent documentary OF FATHERS AND SONS.

Festivals

2017 IDFA Competition for Feature-Length Documentary (world premiere)
2018
Sundance – World Cinema Documentary Competition
20th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival
20th ONE WORLD - International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival
49th Visions du Réel – Grand Angle
58th KFF - Krakowski Festiwal Filmowy
25th Sheffield Doc|Fest
SWR DOKU FESTIVAL – German Documentary Award 2018
FILMFEST MÜNCHEN
35th Kassel DokFest
LOLA@Berlinale - shortlisted for German Film Award Documentary 2019
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Cast & Crew

Directed by : Talal Derki

Produced by : Hans-Robert Eisenhauer, Tobias N. Siebert, Ansgar Frerich, Eva Kemme

Director of Photography : Kahtan Hassoun

Editor : Anne Fabini

Composer : Karim Sebastian Elias

Sound Design : Sebastian Tesch

Nominations and Awards

  • European Documentary 2018
  • EFA Documentary Selection 2018