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“HELL AND BACK AGAIN” | director, Danfung Dennis

[PREMIERE SCREENING: Sunday, Jan. 23, 12:00 pm — Holiday Village Cinema IV]

“Down, down, down!” yelled a U.S. Marine as bullets whizzed overhead and machine-gun fire rattled. We had been drawn into a coordinated ambush deep behind enemy lines. In these difficult situations, I use intense concentration to keep operating my camera system. As we ducked to the next mud berm for cover, I focused on keeping my movements smooth and my distance to the Marine ahead of me constant so I would have a steady tracking shot that would remain in focus.

Pinned down by incoming fire, the insurgents triggered their trap. A horrific explosion roared over us, rocking the earth and sending a massive cloud of dust and dirt into the sky. Maybe I would have reacted differently if I had known that the Afghan soldier next to me had been killed, blown high into the sky. At that moment, I directed my attention to the light levels. The enveloping dust cloud that had blocked out the sun. I needed to correct the exposure on my camera. I gently turned the filter on the front of my lens to let in more light to continue working.

The intensity of fighting in Afghanistan did not shock me as much as the reactions I had when I returned home. The first time I showed this footage from Afghanistan to a small audience, midway through, I was asked by the organizer to turn it off. I replied that the scene was almost over, but they insisted that I turn it off. I left angry and humiliated that my experiences and those of the Marines that were risking their lives were deemed not suitable to even be seen. I had come back from a struggle of life and death to a world where no one had any connection to the war their country was fighting. No one even wanted a glimpse of it.

After that, I only showed my work to a careful selection of people. The most common reaction was, “Is this real?” What had been almost a daily existence for those at war could not even be grasped by those who were at home. This disconnect between the realities on the ground and the perception at home shaped the course of the film. By using advanced technology, I hoped to create a powerful experience that would shake people from their indifference to war.

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