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A group of children giggle as they play in a dusty, barren landscape near their home in northern Syria, but this is no ordinary game of catch, for their ball is a live bomb.
The macabre game of chicken is one of the most blood-chilling scenes in “Of Fathers and Sons,” filmmaker Talal Derki’s disturbing new expose on the grip of Islamism in his native Syria.
“This is the scene that broke my heart,” Derki told AFP in an interview in Los Angeles this week, recalling the blood-chilling episode.
“I was seeing my six-year-old boy through the lens.”
For more than two years, the celebrated filmmaker lived with an Islamist family in a war-ravaged region bordering Turkey, focusing his camera primarily on the children to capture their gradual radicalization.
The result is a bleak and haunting 98-minute documentary that gives viewers rare insight into the brutal daily life of jihadists, who in recent years have sown fear across the globe.
“I call it the nightmare,” the 41-year-old filmmaker said, referring to the spread of the jihadist movement.
The film, released in the United States on Thursday, won the world cinema documentary competition at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.
Derki’s previous documentary, “Return to Homs,” won the grand jury prize at Sundance in the same category in 2014.
“Of Father and Sons” tracks Abu Osama, one of the founders of Al-Nusra, an Al-Qaeda affiliate group, as he leads two of his eight sons — Osama, 13, named after dad’s personal hero Osama bin Laden, and Ayman, 12, named after the current Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri — down the path to jihad.
Berlin-based Derki said he gained Abu Osama’s trust by posing as a war photographer sympathetic to the jihadist cause and lived on-and-off with the family for two and a half years, sharing their most intimate moments.
– Innocent youths to jihadists –
The horror in the film doesn’t come from violence and blood and gore, Derki said. Rather the viewer is sickened as the documentary charts the children’s brutal transformation from innocent youths to jihadi fighters.
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