Thanks to publicist Susan Norget for slipping me a DVD screener of Sebastian Junger‘s Which Way Is The Front Line From Here?: The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington. It’s an affectionate, reasonably honest tribute to the respected war photographer and co-director and co-producer of the Oscar-nominated Restrepo. It was made in response to Hetherington’s death by mortar blast in Libya on 4.20.11.
I watched the doc during last night’s hibernation withdrawal. It’s well made, tight, solid. I respected the blend of discipline and candor and sadness. I was especially touched by the playing of “Danny Boy” over the end credits.
Hetherington was a good guy who lived fully and laughed a lot, but he was a war-adrenalin junkie and we all know the name of that tune. We’ve all contemplated that famous Winston Churchill quote about how “there is nothing so exhilarating as to be shot at without consequence.” The doc tells us that Hetherington was getting over this addiction and was starting to look at another way of living and working, but he had a hard time saying no in a final, absolute sense.
I still have an issue with the lack-of-contextual-candor aspect of Restrepo, which I explained in a 1.20.10 article called “Afghanistan Bananistan.”
“There’s no question whatsover that this movie lies through omission about what’s really going on in Afghanistan in the broader, bigger-picture sense,” I wrote. “I found myself becoming more and more angry about this after catching Restrepo two nights ago at the Walter Reade theatre, and especially after doing some homework.
“Hetherington and Junger spent a little more than a year (May 2007 to July 2008) with several U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan’s Korangal Valley, a.k.a., ‘the valley of death.’ They focused mainly on the grunts’ hilltop camp called Restrepo (pronounced res-TREP-o and named for a medic in their unit who’d been killed). The film does a clean and competent job of portraying their endless firefights with Taliban forces and their community dealings with the locals, and it acquaints us with various members of the hilltop platoon — their faces, lives, impressions — in what seems like a frank and forthright manner.
“Except the kind of frankness that Restrepo is offering is, to put it mildly, selective. For realism’s sake Restrepo chooses to isolate its audience inside the insular operational mentality of the grunts — ‘get it done,’ ‘fill up more sandbags,’ ‘ours not to reason why’ and so on. In so doing it misleads and distorts in a way that any fair-minded person would and should find infuriating. Is there any other way to describe a decision to keep viewers ignorant about any broader considerations — anything factual or looming in a political/tactical/situational sense — that might impact the fate of the subjects, or their mission?
“Hetherington has been a war photographer for years, and guys like him are basically action junkies — let’s face it. He seems almost invested in the Afghanistan conflict, perversely, because it provided him with a year’s worth of adrenaline rushes as well as the opportunity to create a noteworthy film and contribute great pics to Vanity Fair. In any case he’s apparently determined to follow the script set out by The Hurt Locker — i.e., our film isn’t preaching, not taking a stand, just showing how it is for the troops, etc.”
15 months later Hetherington was killed. I’m very sorry, but he knew what he was doing. Condolences once again to his family, friends and colleagues.