Interview with Talal Derki, director of OF FATHERS AND SONS

Talal Derki's oscar nominated film "OF FATHERS AND SONS" was in the program of more than
one hundret film festival - last year at the Human Rights Film Festival Berlin.
Now the documentary film has its theatrical release in Germany. During the interview Talal answered questions about his filming time and life with the jihadists.*

How did you find your main subject, Abu Osama?

Lots of research. I was searching this area of Syria because this is the area that was established as the center for ISIS and al-Nusra, so all those jihadists moved there from all around the world. They all united in this place in the north of Syria. So al-Nusra people who I have access with, they went with me to meet the father, and they asked him to do this film.

And you told him you were sympathetic to al-Nusra’s cause?

This is what I did to win their hearts and to make them trust me. Otherwise, they would not give me the access.

How big was the crew?

In the village, we had only two people. The other was a cameraman. He really sympathized with them. But he’s anti-violence. He never carried a weapon. When [the jihad] became very strong, he became more religious than before. Now he doesn’t talk to me, now that he’s figured out what kind of film I was making.

And what is that motivation for jihadists?

There are many things, but I believe the status of education in the Third World is the most dangerous thing. The violence in schools, violence in houses — all of this can lead people, at some point, to carry weapons. We can’t make people not believe. People need belief because it’s the hope for what happens after death. We can’t get rid of religion. But what we can do is take the violence out of religion, out of society. When you grow up in a way where there are strict laws against harming children in schools, that anyone who breaks that law can go to court, even if they’re their parents, then you can be sure that, slowly, slowly, people won’t carry weapons. They’ll be against violence because that’s how they grew up.

Why did you’ve focused on the relationship between a djihadist and his sons?

I myself am a father of a six year old son. While shooting my last film “Return to Homs”, I met a father teaching his son to use weapons and kill people. This left me in shock so much, that I decided to make its own film about it.

Did al-Nusra ever come close to figuring out that you were lying?

No. Never. Even after filming, he communicated with me — Abu Osama — after the end of filming. I was at Sundance in a fellowship program in 2017 and I told him, “Please don’t contact me again because the German secret service, they’re investigating me about being in Syria. I have to block all your accounts, you and your friends, until everything goes away.” And he said, “Yes, yes, Abu Youssef” — this was my nickname — “don’t worry. Write me; call me when you feel safe.” I never called him. And I heard that he was just killed.

Oh, wow, Abu Osama just died?

Yes. He was dismantling a car bomb. There’s a video. Someone was filming him from his mobile at the moment he was bombed. Your film was shown at countless festivals and was nominated for an Oscar. People around the world are experiencing this loving father as a dictator and killer.

Do not you have any remorse?

No, the word guilt has no business here. I never criticized Abu Osama in the movie. He exposes himself and the madness of this ideology.

What was your daily life like with Abu Osama's family?

I had to pray five times a day. It was very hard for a non-religious man like me, it almost broke me psychologically. But that was exactly what I wanted to do: to have this experience, to understand how their brainwashing works.

Have you built up personal relationships despite all the differences?

I loved the kids. They are victims, they have no idea what the world looks like outside their limited environment. But I really could not intervene. That would have done them no good and put me in danger. I had to accept that this is their family, their society, their way. Their father intended for them to have their life in the Caliphate.

Why do we not see a single woman in the whole movie?

This is the normal everyday life. This is how the Salafists treat their wives. They must not talk to strangers or appear in front of the camera. I asked Abu Osama to do an interview with one of his two wives. He refused.

In Germany, women are taking on an increasingly important role in the Salafist scene. Are you not afraid that your film will confirm all these prejudices against Muslims?

If you were to make a film about Nazis in Germany, would you not be afraid that the film would give the impression that all Germans are Nazis? In the eyes of many Germans, all Syrians are refugees - and they will still be in one hundred years. The problem in Europe is that people like to generalize. It is from such prejudices, that war is created.

Does this make you pessimistic about how the fate of your homeland will be continue?

Radicalism is increasing and becoming more dangerous - right in this very moment. And I do not see enough political will to end this war and what is happening in Syria.

*The text is a combination of interviews by vulture, ZDF and moveablefest.