TIM HETHERINGTON TRIBUTE AT HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH FESTIVAL
I didn’t know Tim Hetherington very well, but like everyone who had encountered the critically acclaimed photojournalist, either in person or through his incredible work, I was stunned when I heard about his death while covering the uprisings in Libya. Last summer I had the great privilege of interviewing Hetherington and his co-director Sebastian Junger for Filmmaker magazine prior to the release of their Academy Award-nominated Restrepo, and the two struck me as polar opposites. Whereas bestselling author and journalist Junger seemed cut from the same passionate, gung-ho cloth as many of the patriotic men and women who serve in our armed forces, Hetherington appeared to be equal parts empathic and cerebral, the kind who would fully analyze a situation before taking action. Since I’d tagged Junger as the impulsive, think-fast soldier type and Hetherington as the cautious and thoughtful humanitarian aid worker his death brought home another cruel truth — war is governed not by tidy Geneva Conventions but by messy Lady Luck.
So I feel fortunate to have caught Hetherington’s Diary at last November’s IDFA before it carried the baggage of a final film. The short — which screens tomorrow night as part of a tribute to Hetherington at NYC’s 2011 Human Rights Watch Film Festival — is a personal collage that juxtaposes secondhand sound bites from the BBC news with uncensored footage of what’s actually happening on the ground in various war torn countries. Loving messages left by Hetherington’s partner on an answering machine are wedded to images from halfway across the globe. Shots of men in heated battle swing swiftly to scenes of Times Square. A sadistic female soldier in jeans laughs as she scares away a terrified woman with her gunfire. In a sense Diary is a self-portrait of the director’s psyche, an experimental doc that seems to be Hetherington’s attempt to bridge his two lives. We see and hear only the fragments that comprise the isolated and closed battle zone — that which makes up both soldiers and war correspondents’ schizophrenic world. Viewed again after his death, Diary has the sad feel of a work-in-progress — fitting for a patient and painfully hyperaware man with a camera who lived his life as such.