My look at the World Cinema Documentary Competition continues: From Syria/Germany, Talal Derki’s stark frontline report from the front lines of the Syrian civil war, RETURN TO HOMS.
Sundance Program Description:
From 2011 to 2013, filmmaker Talal Derki followed the journey of two close friends whose lives had been upended by the battle raging in Syria. Nineteen-year-old Basset is a local soccer star—the goalkeeper for the Syrian national team. He has also become an iconic singer in the revolution. His songs reflect his dreams of a peaceful liberation from Assad’s brutal regime. Ossama is a 24-year-old media activist and pacifist who wields his camera to capture the revolution. When the army cracks down and their beloved city of Homs becomes a bombed-out ghost town, these two peaceful protesters finally take up arms and transform into rebel insurgents.
With no talking heads or title cards to give us context, Derki’s film is after something much more visceral. Like its heroes, we are pulled into the conflict with frenzied immediacy as we experience one city, the dreaded rites of passage of two friends, and ultimately an entire nation torn apart by the fog of war.
This project, Derki’s fifth documentary, made its debut last November as the first film from the Arab World to open IDFA. Serving as producers are Orwa Nyrabia, co-founder of Syria’s documentary fest, DOX BOX, whose detention by military authorities in August-September of 2012 drew the attention of the international film community; and Ventana Film’s Hans Robert Eisenhauer, a Sundance alum as executive producer of both SINS OF MY FATHER (2010) and WHY WE FIGHT (2005) for ZDF/ARTE. Serving as associate producer is Diana El Jeiroudi, a Syrian director/producer who co-founded DOX BOX with her husband Nyrabia. Also a Park City alumna is editor Anne Fabini, who edited last year’s narrative feature HOUSTON.
Why You Should Watch:
It’s hard to imagine a more immediate experience of life under siege without actually being there in person. Like the work of Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington, Derki’s filming, alternating with the first hand camerawork by Ossama and others, offers viewers an immersive, visceral, and fragmented entry into urban combat and basic survival. This is harrowing, and often difficult, cinema, a sobering and angering exhortation for international awareness and action – though not without moments of black humor from the charismatic young men Derki follows.
Check out the film’s trailer. For more information about the film, visit its website and Facebook page. As they become available, I’ll link to Derki’s Meet the Artist Sundance video profile and to his Indiewire filmmaker interview. For screening dates and times at Sundance, click the link in the first paragraph.
To experience the festival through the eyes of this year’s filmmakers, follow my Sundance filmmaker class of 2014 Twitter list.