Of Fathers and Sons: Talal Derki’s Powerful Docu About Syrian Jihadist

Talal Derki’s powerful documentary Of Fathers and Sons concerns a jihadist in Syria raising his small boys to wage holy war.

Derki went undercover as a jihadist filmmaker for 300 days to make his movie.

“In the end, someone had suspicions about me. He was asking to meet me, a dangerous guy,” Derki says about narrowly avoiding capture by a notorious Al-Nusra Front Tunisian who calls himself Safeneh. “I was in Germany, but I understood that this time the journey had ended.”

Two years earlier, in April 2014, Derki left his wife and child in Berlin, with the understanding they might never see one another again.

Through work on his previous film, 2013’s The Return to Homs, he had become acquainted with individuals who had since become radicalized, including Abu Hajar Al Houmsi, who had become a leader with Al-Nusra.

A Syrian Kurd who fled the war, Derki convinced him that he, too, had converted, aiming to shoot a promotional doc on the group for recruitment.

Arriving in Idlib, in northern Syria, he focused his cameras on Abu Osama and his sons, Osama, 13, and Ayman, 12, who occupy a plain block structure on the edge of war. In one scene, one of the boys threatens to shoot his 2-year-old sister for not wearing her hijab.

Derki says: “This is the masculine power that destroys the Middle East. This destroyed the Muslim countries. The man creates war, they create a generation ready to die.”

Had Derki’s true identity been discovered, it would have cost him his life. By the time suspicions about him surfaced, he was out of harm’s way.

“I was a shadow of myself,” he says of the heavy toll the production took. “To get killed in that way, even if it’s 5 percent likelihood, you cannot live normally as you are. All psychology is broken. I take pills before sleep to not have nightmares and bad dreams and wake up three or four times a night.”