Sundance film celebrates photographer killed in Libya

PARK CITY, Utah, Romain Raynaldy- The life and work of British war photographer Tim Hetherington, who died covering fighting in Libya in 2011, is celebrated in a film presented at the Sundance Film Festival this week.
"Which Way is the Front Line from Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington" was directed by Sebastian Junger, with whom he made an Oscar-nominated 2010 documentary about Afghanistan, "Restrepo."

Sundance film celebrates photographer killed in Libya
Junger recalled the April 2011 phone call, reporting that Hetherington had been injured in Misrata. A short time later his death was confirmed. Junger interviewed fellow journalists at a New York memorial for his friend.
"Suddenly I was making a film," he said, recalling that Hetherington -- who had dual US nationality -- "had documented his last day of life extensively with a video camera, and that material became the beginning of (the film)."
"Journalists are dying with greater and greater frequency in war zones, and their deaths are better and better documented because everyone, it seems -- including rebel fighters -- carries small video cameras.
"The well-recorded tragedy of my friend's death, I thought, might be able to inform other journalists and the general public about the risks of the job," he added.
The movie was presented out of competition at Sundance, where the two men won the Grand Jury Prize for a documentary in 2010 for "Restrepo," which recounted the life of a platoon in the war in Afghanistan.
Produced by US cable channel HBO, it follows the training and career over a decade of the Briton, from his first warzone images in Liberia to his death on April 20, 2011 at the age of 41, with fellow photographer Chris Hondros.
Born on Merseyside, he studied English literature at Oxford before deciding to become a photojournalist, living and working for several years in Africa -- where he became the only photographer behind rebel lines in Liberia in 2003.
He later moved to New York and worked for Vanity Fair, winning wide praise for his work in Afghanistan, including the World Press Photo of the Year award in 2007 for a picture of an exhausted US soldier on the Afghan frontline.
As well as Hetherington's own still and video images from his final days, Junger filmed interviews with family and friends, notably photographer James Brabazon, who was in Liberia with him and praises his talent for documentary.
Junger agrees. "Tim was much more than just a combat reporter. True, he initially made his name shooting video during the Liberian civil war and achieved widespread prominence with the documentary 'Restrepo.'
"But his ultimate value as an artist lay in his ability to integrate multiple media and transcend the limitations of his profession. He refused to even call himself a photographer, preferring the more ambiguous 'image-maker.'
"That ambiguity allowed him to do almost anything he wanted, creatively speaking."
To underline how much his friend was more at ease behind the lens than in front of it, Junger opens the film with a close-up declaration from Hetherington, hesitating over his words.
Finally, he decides which ones to use telling the camera: "I think the important thing for me is connecting with real people.
"To document them even in extreme circumstances, when there is not a neat solution, when there is not a neat guideline saying 'This is what it's about.' I hope this is what my work shows."
Junger says his film "chronicles Tim's passage from a terrified and untested photographer in Liberia to one of the masters of his profession.
"By necessity it is very much a war movie, but it also strives -- as Tim did -- to defy the expectations of the genre.
"Some of Tim's most courageous work did not take place in war zones but in the ridiculously creative enclaves of his mind. He never flinched from either. I hope I have made a film that does not flinch as well."

Thursday, January 24th 2013
Romain Raynaldy

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