Two years ago this week photojournalist Tim Hetherington tragically lost his life when he was in the impact zone of a mortar shell while on the job in the middle of the Libyan Civil War. A photojournalist seems to be an odd person for a cinephile to care about but Hetherington was no ordinary photojournalist. In 2010, he co-directed Restrepo, an apolitical documentary about the soldiers in the Korengal Valley area of Afghanistan (an area of Afghanistan that is so dangerous that the US army doesn’t even bother trying to hold it anymore). The film is not only one of the best documentaries in recent memory but it also garnered Hetherington an Academy Award nomination. Luckily, there are people out there who want Hetherington’s spirit to live on including the man that Hetherington co-directed Restrepo with, Sebastian Junger. Last week Sebastain Junger released his latest documentary through HBO. It is entitled Which Way is the Front Line From Here?: The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington. The documentary serves as a tribute that is worthy of one of the world’s greatest and most daring photojournalists.
It is quite stunning how Sebastian Junger was able to put this documentary together as it is somehow able to put together a detailed and complete portrayal of an individual that is no longer with us. This isn’t just a documentary with people close to Hetherington recounting how great of a man he was. While there is certainly some of that, there are also vivid depictions of Hetherington’s personal dreams and feelings (apparently there were a bunch of one-on-one interviews with Hetherington readily available as if he was already in the process of making a documentary about his life). Even more shocking though is that there numerous sequences within the documentary that has Hetherington on the frontlines in Africa, Afghanistan and even in Libya in what were some of his final moments. All of this is crisply edited together, which must have been no small feat considering how many different sources were used for the footage.
This documentary also has two of the most stunning sequences of the entire television season. The first occurs when the film gets into the portion of Hetherington’s life in which he was filming Restrepo. Restrepowas a great film because of how intimate it was. While this segment of this documentary ultimately serves as a making of, of Restrepo, it also feels like an extension of that film as it maintains the intimacy of Restrepo. The second sequence is the horrifying portrayal of Hetherington’s death. Smartly, the documentary doesn’t contain any footage of Hetherington’s death (who knows if any exists but it is conceivable that it does) but instead goes for a more artistic portrayal. The scene is voiced over by the man who was by Hetherington’s side when he died and his death is visually portrayed through a recreated first person shot of the way the narrator describes his last moments as he fades in and out of consciousness. The scene was done as artistically and classy as it possibly could have been.
Which Way is the Front Line From Here?: The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington is a thorough and worthy documentary of a man that only had a short time in the film industry but made the most of it.