'Hondros': Film Review | Tribeca 2017

Hondros Still Joseph Duo - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Chris Hondros
An eloquent tribute to a war photographer who captured unforgettable images.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Jamie Lee Curtis are among the executive producers of this documentary about acclaimed war photographer Chris Hondros.

Sadly, documentaries about journalists killed during war are not a new phenomenon. In recent years, films about James Foley and Tim Hetherington have affected viewers. One of the most searing of these docs, Hondros, has its world premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Chris Hondros, who worked for Getty Images, photographed conflicts all over the world and was killed while covering the civil war in Libya in 2011. The film succeeds partly because Hondros was such a gifted war photographer, and partly because of the thoughtful and loving portrait created by director Greg Campbell. Jake Gyllenhaal and Jamie Lee Curtis lent their support to the project and acted as executive producers. This potent movie deserves a showcase beyond the festival circuit, where it is certain to be highly acclaimed.

Campbell, a journalist, was a childhood friend of Hondros, and they worked together on some assignments over the years. But Campbell does not seem to have sacrificed any objectivity because of his personal friendship with Hondros. On the contrary, it seems as if their relationship influenced the director to dig deeper in an effort to do justice to his subject.

The doc benefits from having footage of Hondros himself at different periods in his life. Handsome and charismatic, he makes an appealing camera subject. In one interview early in the film, he claims that it was not a lust for adventure that led him to dangerous situations. Instead, he insists, “I believe in photography.” That may not entirely convince viewers that Hondros and other war correspondents are completely free of a very masculine search for the ultimate rush. But his eloquent work speaks for itself and justifies his choice of a hazardous profession.

Hondros started photographing conflicts in Kosovo and other hotspots in the 1990s. He was on the front lines in Afghanistan after 9/11. When covering the civil war in Liberia in 2003, his powerful images helped to bring international attention to that crisis. But especially striking was his work during the Iraq war. The film highlights his photographs of five Iraqi children after their parents were killed by U.S. soldiers who mistakenly targeted the car that they were driving. These specific photographs helped to bring home the horrors of the American invasion and may have played a role in turning the tide of American public opinion against the misguided war.

The film includes interviews with the Army officer who was involved in that mission, and his sense of guilt and torment suffuses the film. Hondros himself was so affected by the incident that he helped to bring one of the wounded children back to the U.S. for medical treatment. That boy later returned to Iraq and was killed in an ISIS attack that seemed to be a deliberate anti-American atrocity. So the story told in the film turns out to be complex and haunting.

As this example suggests, Campbell managed to assemble an astonishing array of interviews to enrich his portrait. Many fellow journalists pay tribute to Hondros’ talents as a photographer, but the interviews with some of the survivors of the wars that Chris chronicled add even more depth to the film. Perhaps the ultimate tribute to Hondros is offered by his mother, who says near the end of the film, “He did more living in 41 years” than many people who live twice as long.

Production companies: Bold Films, Nine Stories
Director: Greg Campbell
Writers: Greg Campbell, Jenny Golden

Producers: Greg Campbell, Daniel Junge, Geoff McLean, Mike Shum
Executive producers: Jake Gyllenhaal, Riva Marker, Steven A. Castleton, Gary Michael Walters, Michael Litvak
Co-executive producer: Jamie Lee Curtis
Director of photography: Mike Shum
Editors: Davis Coombe, Jenny Golden, Cindy Lee
Music: Jeff Russo
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Spotlight Documentary)

92 minutes