David Munro Tribute: Screening of Going Back

Screening Wednesday 12th August, 2009

Update: We have decided to screen Going Back in conjunction with clips from The Four Horsemen and a personal film about david made by filmmaker Rodrigo Vasquez. We were very lucky to be able to obtain this footage and felt that it provides a far greater amount of time for a discussion between two important figures in David’s life as well as contributions from his friends and family. It will be an incredibly special and interesting evening and please do contact us  at [email protected] if you have any queries.

The documentary film-maker David Munro will be best remembered for the epic documentaries he made in collaboration with the journalist John Pilger for ITV, and especially for the courage and ability that they both displayed 20 years ago when making Year Zero: the silent death of Cambodia, the 1979 film which revealed the horrors of Pol Pot’s genocidal rule and for which the Khmer Rouge sentenced Munro and Pilger to death.

He was more than just a producer and director. His voice was often heard as the narrator in other film-makers’ work. He was an accomplished photographer as well as a cinematographer, at ease with film and video cameras, and he proved this brilliance when undercover with Pilger in East Timor and Burma.

Of the first Pilger/Munro film, Do You Remember Vietnam (1978), Variety wrote: "Every picture makes its point and the marriage of visual images to the script…and the razor-sharp editing all combine to erect a monument to the documentary art".

Films with tsunami impact followed. They exposed the sham and shaming policies of western powers in south-east Asia, damned the lies of realpolitick, uncovered layers and decades of establishment concealment, and raised the consciousness of audiences – and the viewing figures for socio-political documentaries – to unprecedented heights.

Year Zero (1979), which alerted the world to the horrors of Pol Pot, was the first of four documentaries on Cambodia. John Pilger wrote of this experience: "Pol Pot had fallen, and in basements, in petrol stations, there were orphaned, very sick children, whom we tried to help. David steered Gerry Pinches, the cameraman, as he filmed rows of opaque eyes, the tears running down his face. Gerry says David held us all together, and it was true. At times I am asked how I have withstood the emotional perils of having witnessed so much human mayhem and suffering. Part of the answer is that I shared a lot of it with David, whose comradeship was unerring, along with a black humour we both relished."
Death Of A Nation (1994), and its sequel The Timor Conspiracy (1998), were shot by David at great personal risk, and told of the brutal suppression of East Timor, prompting international action. Others were on issues other documentary makers ignored, or bypassed as television began to dumb down, including Burma, the Murdoch monopoly, third world debt, and the arms trade. In more than 20 years, Pilger and Munro made more than 20 films. John’s acknowledgment of David’s contribution is unreserved: "We never exchanged a harsh word". Their friendship remained undimmed.

Munro had an understandable keenness to work on his own. When he did, it seems that, as much as anything, it was to engage what had become his crusading energy. In 1981, he returned to Vietnam with American veterans he had met during the making of Heroes. With them, he made Going Back. The veterans’ president, Bobby Muller, credits Munro with having educated him in the political background to their disregarded and unrewarded return from the war, and for inspiring the veterans movement -particularly by infusing it with a philosophy of reconciliation with former enemies. The veterans are now the largest relief organisation in Cambodia, and Muller sees David’s legacy in their continuing work.

By 1985 Munro had completed a three-year project, his personal anti-war trilogy The Four Horsemen. Shot in eight war-torn countries, it remains what his Nicaraguan wife, Layhing Siu, believes is his most important work. It was dedicated to "Truan [his son with Susan Penhaligon] and all the children". 

David Munro engendered feelings of deep affection, admiration and friendship among his closest family, ex-wives, colleagues, friends, the street children of Nicaragua, the American veterans of Vietnam, students at the National Film school and many others.

David Munro recieved several awards during his remarkabe career::

Honourable Mention in the Broadcast Television – Current Affairs category, Golden Gate Awards, San Francisco, 1990

George Foster Peabody Award, Athens, Georgia, 1990

Award for Best Achievement in Documentaries, International Monitor Awards, New York, 1990

Special Commendation of the United Nations Association, UNA Media Peace Prize competition, London, 1990

Trophy for Best News Report (highest award of the competition), plus the – ‘Reporters Sans Frontieres’ prize awarded for the humanitarian values of the report – at the Adventure of Information Festival (The Great News Report competition), Bouches du Rhone, France, 1990

Gold Award in the Investigative Journalism category (TV and Video Productions), at the Houston International Film Festival, 1990