It is fairly extraordinary that this film exists. The level of access attained by Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger over their 15-month period embedded with ...
Rating: R for language throughout including some descriptions of violence
Length: 93 minutes
Released: June 25, 2010 Limited
Director: Sebastian Junger, Tim Hetherington
Tim Hetherington finds himself, as an acclaimed journalist (Sundance Grand Jury Prize for “Restrepo” and World Press Photo of the Year 2008, among other awards) to be in a very privileged position. With a relative level of fame, he has a broad set of platforms he can utilize (television, movies, photographs, online stuff, galleries) in order to draw public attention to issues he cares about. “I’ve got to say, I’m pretty lucky,” he says.
In the case of “Restrepo,” co-directed with Sebastian Junger (whose new book “War” also chronicles the pair’s Afghan experience) Hetherington hopes his documentary spurs conversation about the war in Afghanistan. It shows how politics may come into play, but that’s not what the soldiers are thinking about. Says Hetherington: “I hope the film will provide a context in which we can have this discussion. I also feel that the tendencies of each side of the political spectrum is to create their own realities (of what the war is) and this film is a way to escape that.”
No stranger to war, Hetherington lived and worked in West Africa for eight years and has reported on social and political issues worldwide. He was the only photographer to live behind rebel lines during the recent Liberian civil war. He has also returned to Afghanistan since making “Restrepo.” However, during his 14 months at the Afghanistan outpost, he broke his leg in the heat of battle and wasn’t certain he was going to survive the night.
“It was among some of the more intense experiences of my life, though the nature of my work inevitably means that I’ve been in some intense situations.
“I broke my fibula during Operation Rock Avalanche, and had to walk down a mountain for four or five hours in the middle of the night. I was with a platoon of soldiers and I was worried about slowing them down, and us all being exposed on the hillside by dawn. I was worried that if we were attacked, I was going to get killed. So that was pretty intense,” Hetherington says.
After such an experience, he found that making the film was very therapeutic.
“It’s been a really good thing. There’ve been a lot of really difficult moments, and making the film has been a very good way to work through them, as a sort of therapeutic process. To go away somewhere like this, and to hopefully come back, but not be sure. ... It’s a different feeling. You go out, and you make work, and you have questions about the work you’re doing. Making the film and editing afterward helped me answer some of my questions that were raised.”
He hopes the film can build bridges “both between the military and civilians and between the military and their loved ones back home, to see what their loved ones are doing away, and build a conversation between people that are for the war and against the war as well.”
As far as comparisons to “The Hurt Locker” go, Hetherington says, “War has been a preoccupation of society for millennia, since time immemorial. Narratives of war stretch back from Homer’s ‘Iliad’ onward.
“I don’t think you could say that ‘The Hurt Locker’ paved the way for our movie. I think you could say that ‘The Hurt Locker’ shows that this country is receptive to narratives about war, and it should be. This country is involved in a series of wars. They are costly and important.”
Hetherington also stresses the difference between “The Hurt Locker” as a movie and “Restrepo” as a documentary. “I enjoyed ‘The Hurt Locker,’ but I know there’s a number of soldiers and embedded reporters I’ve spoken with who have problems with the film for various reasons of accuracy. I saw the film, and I personally enjoyed it, but it’s a movie, it’s quite different from our documentary.
“In our documentary, Private Restrepo is killed and he is dead. He’s not coming back. It’s real, unfortunately. It’s not a movie.”
Hetherington says he feels that the soldiers are mostly happy with his film. What was even better to see, he says, was the reaction of their wives and families. The wives really took it as an opportunity to connect, and loved seeing what their husbands do for a living.
He explains: “They may be good soldiers, but they have difficulty sharing what happened over there. Naturally, the wives in the States, who have often been here fighting their own wars, they want to see what their husbands are going through.”
Audiences may wonder if directors Hetherington and Junger were armed. “I think that would have just gotten in the way, ya’know what I mean? We never carried weapons, we were part of the platoon for all intents and purposes, but our job was to record. We slept where they slept, went on patrol with them, but we weren’t armed. I felt incredibly safe with the soldiers. I was in this group experience with them, and they were very good, competent soldiers.”
Hetherington says he felt close to the platoon throughout the experience, as he was allowed to enter their world first as an outsider. “Maybe when we got to feel closest is when the soldiers started taking the piss out of you, ya know? You’re one of the guys then.”
© 2010, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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