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Movie Review: “Of Fathers and Sons”

“Of Fathers and Sons” is a difficult but fascinating and perhaps necessary film to watch, well shot and affecting.
Photo credit:
Talal Derki

Syria-born filmmaker Talal Derki has never shrunk from the difficult. Though he has lived in Berlin for many years, he went home for his 2013 documentary “Return to Homs,” which documented the civil war that broke out after the Arab Spring-inspired peaceful demonstrations of 2011 throughout the country were met with brutality from the Assad regime, which had ruled Syria for four decades.

Now he’s taken the dangerous assignments one step further, documenting what happened after that. The Assad faction was (and is) supported by Russia and Iran, but public discontent fomented the formation of several armed Syrian groups to fight Assad’s forces, some supported by foreign interests like Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.

Many Syrian cities were reduced to rubble, and the stalemate that followed has produced neither a “winner” nor an end to the struggle. Instead, extremist groups (among them Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State) rose up, intent on the establishment of a caliphate in Syria.

Derki wanted to understand the psychology of these groups – and what makes a jihadi. In order to find out, he befriended one – Abu Osama, one of the founders of the Syrian arm of Al-Qaeda. Derki convinced him that he was a war photographer, and spent more than two years with Abu Osama and some of his 12 children. Most especially, Derki follows the two eldest – 13-year-old Osama and 12-year-old Ayman – as they prepare for and undertake jihadist training. (We see no women because they are not allowed to be seen or heard by male strangers).

“Of Fathers and Sons” is the chilling result.

At first, looking a bit like summer camp (with the boys roughhousing as they do everywhere), the training begins with physical fitness – such as climbing up a bare wall with just a rope, and jumping through a flaming hoop.

Abu Osama’s particular talent is minesweeping: detecting and defusing bombs and other explosive devices. We watch him do the job, taking some of the boys along to train them. When the unexpected happens, Abu says, “It’s God’s will, my son. Don’t be sad.”

Meanwhile, the boys study the Koran and are taught that it’s important they be able and willing to kill. Thirteen-year-old Osama takes to the training easily, but his brother Ayman lacks concentration and is more interested in education. He will stay in school until he is ready.

“Of Fathers and Sons” is a difficult but fascinating and perhaps necessary film to watch, well shot and affecting.

Genre: Documentary

MPAA Rating: Not rated

Studio: Kino Lorber

Runtime: 99 minutes

Our rating: 4

Directed by: Talal Derki

Cast: Abu Osama, Ayman Osama, Osama Osama

Recommended audience: Those curious about the making of a jihadi. 

 “Of Fathers and Sons” is playing in select theaters around the country.