Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger Collaborate on Restrepo
September 01, 2010
A few years ago Sebastian Junger, author of the Perfect Storm, and Tim Hetherington, winner of the 2007 World Press Photo competition, spent several months following a platoon stationed in Afghanistan’s Korangal Valley. Their times in Afghanistan lead to the creation of a piece for Vanity Fair, a special on ABC, a 287 page book, and a full-length collaboration entitled Restrepo. At Sundance this year, Restrepo took home the festival’s highest honor for documentaries. Mr. Hetherington was generous enough to answer a few questions about collaborating with Junger and the dangers of filming in a combat zone.
Between your background in photography and Mr. Junger’s in works of non-fiction, Restrepo seems to be a unique pairing in terms of craft, how did you connect with Mr. Junger?
Sebastian and I are both contributors to Vanity Fair magazine. He's the writer in the partnership, I'm the photographer - so I initially teamed up with him to go to Afghanistan on assignment for the magazine. That said, the project was his idea - and the scope of it went well beyond the magazine assignment. He was interested in the experience of the US soldier post 9-11, and wanted to write a book around that idea, write some magazine articles for VF, and maybe shoot a documentary. He didn't know how to do that, but I did - so the whole process came about in a very organic way.
What concepts or ideas brought you together for this film and did those concepts evolve throughout the project?
We were brought together by Vanity Fair, but we have both been war reporters for some time, and I think we are both interested in the soldiers’ experience.
We wanted to make the most immersive and experiential war film we could that places the viewer into the soldiers’ world. Understanding that to be our goal, helped shape our decisions - for example, everything takes place inside the valley (except for the post-deployment interviews) and we don't use an outside narrator.
In the process of working on this film, you broke your leg and Mr. Junger was blown up in a Humvee. Are these sorts of injuries somewhat expected when working in the field?
I've been covering conflict for some time now and have had the sort of conversation with myself about what risks I am willing or not willing to make. I don't expect to get injured when I work, but I'm accepting of the idea that it could happen. I guess it's like any action that implies a risk - like riding a bike or driving.
In terms of necessary disregard for personal safety, how does the Korangal Valley in Afghanistan compare with other places of upheaval that you have covered?
I don't disregard my personal safety - that would be irresponsible to myself and those close to me - I'm very careful when I work. For example, I keep fit - not to would be irresponsible in these working conditions. But I accept that I do take risks - as everyone does in life - although I accept that I am willing to do things and go places, others are not. This is part and parcel of my work up to this point - as it was in Liberia or other countries I've worked in. Every war has a different dynamic, so it's hard to make sweeping judgments. I lived behind rebel lines as the only photographer during the recent Liberian civil war in 2003. There was no electricity, little food, no chance of an easy way out of the country, and I and my colleague, James Brabazon, had an execution order put on us by the then-president, Charles Taylor. It's hard to compare this to Afghanistan, except in both cases, I was embedded with heavily armed young men.
Do you plan on continuing to work on full-length documentaries? What are the chances of another Hetherington and Junger collaboration of this scale?
Yes - I guess so. I work on long term documentary projects, and so I hope to make another film. I hope Sebastian and I continue to work together - and there is no reason that we will not. We have a great working relationship, complement each other well, and we're good friends.
You can access Junger’s piece for Vanity Fair by searching our Popular Magazines database and searching for the title of Junger's piece, “Return to the Valley of Death”.
Restrepo is currently showing at the Leawood theatre.Tags: interviews