There’s a sequence early on in Talal Derki’s documentary Of Fathers and Sons that makes your blood run cold. A cheerful preteen boy finds a bird and shows it to his father. The father recommends that he kill the bird so their family can eat it. After it’s been killed, the boy returns to his father and gleefully reports on the slaughter. “We put his head down and cut it off,” he says to his dad, “like how you did it, Father, to that man.”
The boy is Osama and his father is known as Abu Osama, a fighter in the Syrian Al Qaeda affiliate group al-Nusra Front. Derki’s film — in theaters November 16 — follows the pair, their family, and the band of murderous killers that form their social circle as they all travel through the lawless hellscape of northern Syria at the height of that country’s ongoing civil war. In order to make the movie, Derki, a Syrian Kurd who fled the war and had taken up residence in Berlin, posed as a jihad-sympathetic documentarian and gained the full trust of the al-Nusra warriors for years. The resulting piece of work is eerily calm and casually jaw-dropping in the way it sheds light on what motivates ordinary people to become genocidal death-cultists.