Thoughts about Restrepo

Assignment: Analyze your response to the film compared to the Vanity Fair article and the photographs Tim Hetherington took of the same soldiers in the New York Times pieces above. In your view, which was the most effective in conveying the reality of conflict?  And has it changed your views on the efficacy of embedding for journalists?

In class last week, we watching the movie Restrepo to supplement our discussion about embedding journalists in war-zones and showing death in the media. I liked it and thought the film was moving and I felt that its strongest point was the authenticity of the experience of war. The movie wasn’t 100% balanced nor impartial, but this was not by fault of the filmmaker. I don’t think any movie that deals with war can be completely balanced or impartial, yet this movie was as close as it could get. Despite this, the audience is truly immersed into the reality of the conflict, and I think that it was extremely effective in achieving the directors goal:

“A lot of documentary films about war since the start of the “war on terrorism” in 2001 have had political standpoints. By stripping that out of our film, by not having a political standpoint, we ask people to be nonpartisan and experience what those soldiers experienced. As a platform to discuss war, I think that’s useful, because it doesn’t divide people. This country is already so divided about war, I think that’s a good strategy: to build a bridge to people, to get them to engage with the politics about Afghanistan, to see what we are dealing with.”[x]

I think film, relative to photographs or written stories, is the most effective way of conveying the reality of the conflict.  The film combines dialogue and actions with the process of human emotions in a way that words and photos on their own fail to achieve the complex environment of war.

A photo from Tim Heatherington's photo book, Infidel. Heatherington is also the director of Restrepo.

A photo from Tim Heatherington’s photo book, Infidel. Heatherington is also the director of Restrepo.

Maybe it’s because the movie started before I got there, but the piece that I felt most was missing from the movie was an explanation of why they were fighting. Why was that area so contended? I didn’t understand what they were doing there (besides the fact that a war was going on), so all of their actions seemed trivial. The “avalanche” mission where one soldier was killed and one was wounded was the emotional climax of the movie, but i couldn’t fully get behind it because I didn’t understand the point of risking their lives in the first place. Perhaps it requires a more in-depth historical analysis that goes beyond the limits of the movie, but it would have been a nice primer. Ironically, the filmmaker, Tim Heatherington, has a quote that sums up my biggest contention with the movie:

“We are making so many images, but we aren’t actually connecting these images. We aren’t exploiting what we have made. We aren’t mining it enough to make it into audiences’ minds.” [x]

In regards to my views on efficacy on embedding for journalists, my thoughts have not changed. I stand by my opinion that embedding is effective, and Restrepo proves that when journalists who have a clear idea of what they hope to achieve and how they hope to achieve it are put in the field, embedding becomes the most useful. The filmmakers were with the soldiers for almost ten months: got to know the boys, their ways, and their stories. That time spent was indispensable in creating bonds with the men that make the film more complex than any photo or story could show.


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