Opening film IDFA follows rebels during bloody guerrilla in Syria

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The International Documentary Festival Amsterdam, (IDFA), opens tonight with 'Return to Homs'. The Syrian filmmaker, Talal Derki, follows the bloody struggle of a group of young people against the army. Half of the fighters from the film are dead already.

Because Damascus doesn't have a film school, Talal Derki, who is native to Syria, had to attend a film academy in Athens. On return, he could not find work in Syria. He made a documentary in Greece and attended a workshop for new talent on the Berlinale in Berlin. Then, on March 15, 2011, everything changed when the revolution started.

return to homs
Jan Eikelboom

Together with a befriended media-activist (Ossama in the movie) he met a talented 19-year-old soccer player, Basset, during a protest. Derki decided to make a film of Ossama and Basset, exposing the human aspect of the revolution.

In 'Returns to Homs' he films their resistance, that changed from non-violent protest into a bloody guerilla, where the army shoots and kills protesters. An army of young rebels forms around Ossama and Basset, using rifles and pistols to fight against tanks and bombs.

Pointless as the unequal struggle may look, when people are killed right in front of the camera, the rebels don't care about life or death. All they want is to change the situation, and they feel this is their moment. They are not willing to wait another forty years. That is the hope they carry with them, the hope that keeps them going.

Forty-five of the approximate 200 fighters of Basset's group were slain since the beginning of the war. Four cameramen filmed the fights from up close, risking their own lives. Ossama was one of the cameramen, until he was arrested over a year ago, and never heard of since. He is presumed dead. Derki and the two other cameramen survived.

With the help of his German co-producer, whom he met in the German film industry, he edited 200 hours of footage, acquired over a two-year-period, resulting in 'Return to Homs'.

Syrians fighting against the regime have a foggy image. There is much misunderstanding about how they think, act, and react. Derki  hopes his documentary paints a better picture of the rebels, of their dreams, and the sacrifices they make for their ideals.

The Syrian filmmaker acknowledges the film is vague about what Basset strives to accomplish for society with his rebel group. Basset was en is not interested in politics. Derki can only speak for himself. He wants Syria to be a country where no fear prevails, without a dictator on the helm, where people are free to believe what they want, and elections determine the course.

'Return to Homs' competes for the VPRO IDFA Award for Best Feature-Length Documentary, the prize for best feature documentary. On Friday, November 29, the winners of the various competition programs IDFA will be announced during the closing ceremony at the Company Theatre in Amsterdam.