In his first feature documentary, Tunisian filmmaker Mohamed Amine Boukhris interweaves the stories and reflections of six combat photographers who have been covering the most violent hot-spots in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria since the Arab Spring began. War Reporter pays homage to the courage of these men, two of whom are dead by the end of the film. Yet apart from the inherent excitement of the subject matter, a note of repetition dulls the tense, tragic atmosphere. It’s a film that will be most appreciated by viewers connected to reporting from the field.
Significantly, while many of the photographers’ shots from conflicts are featured in the film, a greater deal of camera time goes to interviewing them in relatively quiet surroundings.
In many ways, the film rhymes with Martyn Burke’s 2011 Canadian doc Under Fire: Journalists in Combat, even though here, the civil revolutions of the Middle East offer a narrower focus, and all the interviewees are photographers. For this reason one might expect images to get the upper hand, yet such is not the case: The jiggly, handheld visuals are breathless but can rarely match staged movie scenes. There is a street in downtown Tunis agitated with protesters, a road through the Libyan desert that becomes a battlefield, people milling about as they square off against nervous policemen.
The film’s greatest fascination lies in the musings of the off-duty photographers on their perilous jobs and what makes them do it. In Tunis (January 2011), 32-year-old photographer Lucas Dolega finds himself caught in crossfire between police and demonstrators and is mortally injured by a grenade. His friends race him to the hospital. Remi Ochlik, an award-winning French photo reporter, is 29 when he is killed in Syria along with American journalist Marie Colvin. He candidly admits to Boukhris that war is worse than a drug for him.
A third photographer was wounded in Syria this year, but lives to tell the tale from a Turkish beach where he is interviewed. To get around the Syrian government’s ban, journalists had to be smuggled in with their cameras and bullet-proof vests. “You get a phone call and don’t think twice …Making it out alive is the main thing.”
Venue: Dubai Film Festival (Muhr Arab Documentary), Dec. 11, 2013.
Production company: Rives Productions
Cast: Eyad Hamad, Ahmed Bahaddou, Nassim Boumzar, Nicolas Gariga, Remi Ochlik, Lucas Mebrouk Dolega
Director: Mohamed Amine Boukhris
Screenwriter: Mohamed Amine Boukhris
Producer: Nejib Ayed
Directors of photography: Mohamed Amine Boukhris, Eyad Hamad, Ahmed Bahaddou, Nassim Boumzar
Editor: Maher Zitouni
Music: Rabie Zammouri
No rating, 74 min.