Talal Derki returns to his homeland where he gains the trust of a radical Islamist family, sharing their daily life for over two years. His camera is providing an extremely rare insight ...
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Talal Derki returns to his homeland where he gains the trust of a radical Islamist family, sharing their daily life for over two years. His camera is providing an extremely rare insight into what it means to grow up in an Islamic Caliphate.Written by
In the post-9/11 world that we all live in, there is a lot of talk thrown around about jihadism. Some of it in historical context, some of it in war-mongering context, and pretty much everything in between. However, one thing that rarely (if ever) gets scene is the day-to-day life activities of people who consider themselves to be jihadists. That is what documentarian Talal Derki accomplishes, somewhat remarkably, in "Of Fathers and Sons".
The setup to this documentary is that Derki returns to his homeland of Syria (where he was born) under the pretense of being a "war photojournalist" and is harbored by Abu Osama and his family. In reality, though, his goal is to film this subversive doc and give viewers a portrait of jihadist life in Syria.
Besides opening and closing narrations, this entire film is presented essentially "without comment". The camera never turns back to Derki or includes any sort of monologue or opinion on the matters at hand. That is completely left up to the viewer, and in this case there is much to think about.
On one hand, it is easy to see why this type of lifestyle could be considered "backwards" or misconstrued into hatred. Abu names his son Osama in honor of the 9/11 attacks, an immediate window into the Osama family outlook. One's entire lifespan seems to be devoted to a war cause, women are nonexistent at best and heavily persecuted at worst, while the children are raised in an environment of constant bullying and physical confrontation. One gets the sense that these people are sort of "brainwashed into their cause" with no hope for peace even existing.
But then, there is the more human side of things portrayed just as stark. Despite harboring ideologies that are likely extremely different (if not usually outright offensive) to most Americans, Abu clearly loves his children and they him. After experiencing one instance of severe physical hardship, Abu comforts his children as they weep for him. His two oldest sons eventually are sent off to a military camp, and I challenge any viewer not to feel at least something as they cry themselves to sleep at night.
In the end, I think the hallmark of "Of Fathers and Sons" is the humanizing effect it has on jihadists. Am I completely sympathetic to their cause? Absolutely not. However, inside access like this does indeed show them to be individuals capable of love and emotion. I would argue they are extremely misguided in many key ways, but yet still human down at their base level.
So often, America/Islam relations are all about "us vs. them", and often for good reason (wars have been perpetuated by both sides of that coin). What Derki shows here, though, is that it truly is only political/theological ideology that separates "us from them". Strip down the layers to the barest human selves, and you'll find yourself caring for their plight (self-inflicted as it may be) perhaps more than you ever realized.
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