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.
“This is a film that makes you understand how the brain functions,” Derki said. “You have the horror in the language, in the education, in a single moment.”
He said he is still haunted by several scenes in his film, notably the one with the children playing with the makeshift bomb.
In another scene, one of the children proudly boasts to Abu Osama — which means father of Osama in Arabic — about killing a little bird.
“We put his head down and cut it off, like how you did it, father, to that man,” the boy proclaims.