Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Tim Hetherington Remembered

Which Way is the Frontline from Here: The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington (2013) - Junger
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Tell me if I'm wrong, but I think it is the fantasy of many young men to travel to the hot spots of armed conflict and be a war photographer.

It's that combination of danger, wanderlust, detachment from material world and freedom from daily grind we call life. It's that 'freedom that you can leave your world behind with a drop of a hat' thing. I think in every men there is a sense of longing for that coveted place called solitude that is far deeper and greater than just a misguided machismo. With this in mind, Tim Hetherington, combat photographer, journalist, humanitarian, director of Restrepo, who died in Libya in 2011, is remembered by his fellow combat journalist and co-director of that documentary, Sebastian Junger.

It was the Liberian soccer team that changed Hetherington. They needed someone to document the sport teams from the country still reeling from a civil war. After traveling with the rebel soldiers and experiencing deadly firefights, he went over to neighboring Sierra Leone. There he visited the school for the blind, where thousands of war orphans gave evidence of being victimized by soldiers who seemed to believe in an eye for an eye retaliation quite literally. Everywhere he went, he produced many profound photographs.

With many interviewees in the doc and video footage of him, we get the sense of Hetherington's ease with his subject. He had a good head on his shoulders. He wasn't there just to get the perfect shot. He was there to bear witness. Then came Afghanistan, where he immersed himself with those combat soldiers. As I flip through Long Story Bit by Bit: Liberia Retold, his book of photographs, I am certain that he was smart enough to know that moral outrage doesn't equal engagement. He also knew witnessing carried a certain responsibility.

It is ironic that his death came right after he repeatedly said he was done with combat journalism. He was 40 and in a serious relationship. Which Way Is The Front Line From Here? not only pays tribute to Hetherington but gives a real insight into the psyche of combat journalists at large. It's not only a thoughtful tribute to a fallen brother in arms (or rather, brother in camera) but a strong, revealing documentary. Soon after the death of his colleague, Junger launched a program to provide emergency medical training for freelance combat journalists - RISC (Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues).

Which Way is the Front Line from Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington premieres April 18 at 8 p.m. on HBO and will be playing at IFC Center in New York on April 23. Junger will be at the screening for Q & A.

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