Blood Trail

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Toronto International Film Festival

TORONTO -- There have been several films in recent years profiling the behind-the-lens lives of photojournalists, but none have zoomed-in on an individual quite as colorful as Robert King.

Chronicling 15 years and three journalistic tours of duty in the life of the idealistic war photographer, Richard Parry's documentary provides an intriguing glimpse into the driving forces that have King and his ilk coming back for more despite the inherent dangers.

Although its 78-minute running time would make this more of a television proposition, the film's larger-than-life subject could not only comfortably fill a bigger screen, he'd be a natural for feature-length, based-on-a-true-story treatment.

When Parry first catches up with King in 1993, the partying 23-year-old art college graduate from Memphis has arrived in Sarajevo with visions of a Pulitzer dancing in his head.

To say he's a bit wet behind the ears is an understatement -- his photo agency dumps him because all of his pictures are underexposed and out-of-focus, while a soldier advises him that working along the front lines while wearing a white shirt is probably inadvisable.

But despite the considerable doubts of his seasoned colleagues, like British photojournalist (and the film's producer) Vaughan Smith, King perseveres.

When we catch up with him four years later in bombed-out Chechnya, King has lost all traces of that initial naivete, effectively eroded by his first-hand exposure to countless atrocities, many graphically presented here.

A decade later and now a husband and father, he's embedded with the U.S. military in Iraq, having earned a reputation as a leading combat photographer but still, if considerably more cynically, chasing that Pulitzer.

Effectively bridging the intervening years with present-day footage of King and Smith reflecting on the past while making a sorry attempt at deer-hunting in the Tennessee backwoods, Parry's film exposes some of the darker impulses that keep King and company clicking.

Production company: Frontline Films
Director: Richard Parry
Producers: Richard Parry, Vaughan Smith
Directors of photography: Richard Parry, Vaughan Smith
Editor: John Mister
Sales Agent: The Film Sales Company
Not yet rated, 78 minutes.

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