Talal Derki: Return to Homs

I met Talal Derki at a workshop in Athens a couple of years ago. He showed me some footage with Basset, the young revolutionary leader – and talented football goalkeeper – from Homs, fighting Bashar and his gang. What I saw was impressive and strong. I told him to make the film quickly: It is important to see what happens. NOW. He did not follow my advice. He did right. Instead of a report we now have a Film, a big emotional drama, a great documentary, that I saw yesterday in a crowded Tuschinski Theatre at idfa in Amsterdam.

It feels so banal to state that the film is shocking, that it makes me shake several times, when you are taken so close to watching dead people and people dying, that you want to close your eyes but do not. You sigh and move in your chair. But you watch because you are drawn into a story that you can not leave. About something that happens not very far from where I/we live.

A 9 year old boy lies dead on a floor. Blood is around him. His father cries. I am thinking – take it away from my eyes, but the filmmaker does not, the viewer is invited to stay for more moments with the dead boy and his father, who places himself up against the wall in his deep grief. He prays and mourns. Next to him a cameraman who cries as well. Was it the right decision to show this scene in this way? I think so – paradoxically for me, it is a sign of respect not to cut in a tv reportage style, at the same time as the film

communicates that this is what happened in Homs between August 2011 and August 2013. Invitation to reflect, the film is made in the head of the viewer.

Basset and Ossama. The revolutionary fighter, the leader of demonstrations, singing slogans to have the crowd follow him and his friend, the cameraman, who shot a good deal of the film until he was captured (he is still detained). These charismatic characters – Basset the agitator, Ossama the soft observer – are the protagonists we as viewers live with and feel with in a film, that has the director Talal as the one telling the story. He is seen in the film and he is the one, who connects sequences with a beautiful personal commentary.

The film covers two years. From the early days where Basset sings his songs and makes the crowd join him, to Basset in fight (”we will never win if we stay peaceful”), to Basset sitting with no hope in his eyes on his way to give up, to Basset seriously hurt, ready to die, to Basset back in action. From an open (part of) Homs to a sieged city, to Basset deciding his ”Return to Homs”. It is this personal drama experienced by Basset and Ossama, commented and equally experienced by Talal, conveyed in panoramic scenes that look like Berlin 1945, as well as intimate scenes with the fighters, as well as tough reportage scenes of human beings being shot, brought to the kind of medical treatment that is possible on the front line, in a war zone, as well as a memorable tour through holes in the walls, Ossama (or is it the cameraman that took over after him?) following Basset.

Never has the word ”authenticity” fit so well as a description of a film!

Syria/Germany, 2013, 87 mins.

PS. This morning the idfa academy arranged a meeting with the two producers, Syrian Orwa Nyrabia and German Hans Robert Eisenhauer. It was very interesting to listen to the two gentlemen give background information. Nyrabia – who reflected upon the word ”professional” saying that this film is made by friends, fighters who wanted it to be made – was asked about insurance in connection with a ”Production in Harsh Reality” (title of the session). His answer was that the film team was insured in this way: ”If you die I will take care of your children”! The moderator mentioned the term ”civil war” about the situation in Syria, and was immediately corrected by Nyrabia: ”This is not a civil war. It is an armed revolution against a dictatorship. That is why you should help us!”

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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