Thursday, November 10, 2011

Martyn Burke's documentary UNDER FIRE: Journalists in Combat opens in Los Angeles

Going into the new documentary UNDER FIRE: Journalists in Combat, and in fact for most of the first half of the film, you may think that you already know much of what you are seeing and hearing. Yes, journalists covering war and violence around the globe are ever more frequently on the firing line. (In all of WWI, two journalists were actually killed while doing their job; in the last decade, nearly 900 have bitten the dust.) War journalists and photographers, like the soldiers they cover, are already or will soon be victims of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). And, yes, like junkies to their drug of choice, these people come back again and again to the scene of the crime.
So what's new here?

TrustMovies hopes you will stick with this 90-minute documentary -- written, directed and co-produced by Martyn Burke (shown at left)-- to its remarkably thoughtful and moving conclusion because what we finally see and hear from one of these journalists is unforgettable. Not that what precedes this is small potatoes, but the movie has a cumulative power that crests and then breaks with enormous force, as we watch and listen to Paul Watson, who works for the Los Angeles Times and the Toronto Star.

What Mr. Watson (above) has to say builds upon and cements much of what we have previously seen and heard in this film, but because of who he is, what he has done, and what he tells us, he delves into the very heart of photo journalism, its pros and cons, and why so many journalists suffer from un-assuaged guilt. To see and hear this man explain what happened and its consequences is to come as close to the thing itself as I suspect is possible for a movie to bring us.

Other journalists we hear from include men and women such as Chris Hedges, Finbarr O'Reilly (above), Christina Lamb, Jeremy Bowen, Susan Ormiston and more -- all of whom have pertinent and thoughtful things to tell us on subjects as disparate as how work such as this takes the journalist away from spouse and family (physically and emotionally), to the death -- including via suicide -- of colleagues, the persistent nightmares (part of PTSD), and what it is like to be under attack with a group of soldiers, none of whom have ever experienced an attack, so that the journalist is actually the most seasoned person in the group (Ms Lamb, below, explains the ins and outs of that bizarre experience).

We also visit the Newseum and see an entire wall, below, made up of photos of journalists killed in the line of duty. It used to be that the label "PRESS" acted as a kind of shield for journalists, but no longer. Now it seems that is just as likely to get you killed as protected.  And yet, back and back again, these "action-junkie" journalists go.

One's feeling, by the end of this alternately harrowing and exasperating movie, is that we must be grateful for these war "junkies," for how else would be be able to see and understand being in the midst of it all. But we're also grateful not to be them, and sad for their loved ones, for whom a great loss is most probably, eventually, in the cards.

Under Fire: Journalists in Combat, from Mercury Media International, opens this Friday, November 11, in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Sunset 5, and in New York City on Friday, December 2 (at the Quad Cinema).

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