By Alex Glynn
“Why do young men go to war?” was asked again and again at the Between the Lines follow-up screening of Which Way is the Front Line From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington on Thursday 17 October at the Lexi Cinema. It was a question that occupied Hetherington during his lifetime and a question that director Sebastian Junger and producer James Brabazon aimed to discover about Tim in this powerful and moving film.
A very candid Q&A with the producer Brabazon followed the film – which covered the late Tim Hetherington’s career as a war photographer – whose honest revelations added an extra dimension to the screening.
“The essential issue is that young men find comfort in war. One of the unspeakable truths is that it’s fun. You can see at the start of the film, every single man is laughing,” Brabazon points out, referring to the opening scene where amongst the heat of the fires burning in the Libyan corridors there is a sense that the men who run around with their AK-47s are doing something fun. “That’s uncomfortable,” he adds.
“Somehow water always finds its course and there is something about the theatre of war that bonds young men like you don’t see anywhere else. Tim was interested to see why young men go to war. . . And did he need to be there? No.
“But yet he finds himself at the front line, having a good time. It’s that vortex of violence.”
When an audience member asked Brabazon if Tim’s death compelled him to leave war reporting, we were even given a glimpse of his reasons for going. Contrasting himself to director Sebastian Junger, who decided to stop going in to report conflict, he confessed he felt he had a duty to show people what was going on.
“The way that [Junger] feels is that when you’re working in war, you think you’re putting yourself at risk, but in fact what you’re doing is endangering and putting at risk the lives of those people around you, that love and care for you.
“I felt that after Tim died, I really couldn’t stop. I felt somehow stopping would constitute a betrayal of our friendship,” he admitted.
“I’m not really very good at much,” he said after a searching pause. “There are lots of things that I can’t do. There is this one thing I can do, and when I get it right, I’m not bad at it. But I feel all we do after all is tell other people’s stories, and if you can tell people’s stories who live at the ragged, violent margins of society and you give those people a voice in a way that is translated so that other people can understand it – if you don’t do it, then who will? Because someone needs to, and I feel I can.”
His admission is something also seen in Hetherington throughout the film and you witness the intensity with which he interacts with the people he photographs and brings out the truth. “He made work to be seen,” said Brabazon, when asked about Hetherington’s legacy. “And he wanted to affect change.”
Sebastian Junger has gone on to found RISC Training – “Reporters instructed in saving colleagues” – as a response to a lack of medical knowledge among frontline reporters.
Between the Lines was a three-day festival that took place at Rich Mix from 1 to 3 March co-organised by DocHouse and the Frontline Club. In a series of follow up events we continue to explore the challenges facing documentary makers, investigative journalists and citizen reporters in the new media landscape.