Under Fire: Journalists in Combat (2012)

Directed by Martyn Burke

The above photo is just part of the wall in the National Newseum which features photos of every member of the press which has been killed while covering conflicts across the world. It is a tough business, but one that must be done. Journalism has been a topic of interest in me for some time, and I don’t quite know why, but I think perhaps it has to do with the search for truth. Journalists are always searching for the truth, no matter how grim or unsettling it may be. The world must know the hardships and atrocities being committed the world over, or they’ll keep happening. But in order to uncover these truths, some members of the press must risk their necks to bring it to us. And for that I am grateful.

Now Martyn Burke’s film features interviews with a number of those reporters who are lucky enough to have lived it and survived it. There is an emphasis put on the danger of the occupation, and how that danger has increased so much over the last 50 years. In the First World War, only two press member were killed. Today, it seems like about every week it’s possible one, or more than one, press member will die covering conflicts the world over. Yet, these reporters are a tight knit group, as it always seems to be the same people going back time and again. We saw it a few years ago with Katheryn Bigelow’s film The Hurt Locker, there is just an allure of the adrenaline rush which keeps these reporters coming back, something in their personality that makes them suited for the role. They are war junkies.

It’s a nice thought of a film, and it is important to note the sacrifices these men and women make for all of our sakes, for the greater good. But as a film, Burke’s documentary fails to find a true focus or make any deeper connections. Some of the techniques used, like having the reporters read excerpts from their books or letters, fall flat and feel even awkward. There is no string structure to the film either, as it flits from topic to topic and subject to subject. The greatest strength of the film was found the connection it was able to make with the last story told, that of Paul Watson. If the rest of the film could have been that powerful and poignant, it may have been the best documentary of the year. But instead it presents its topics as a sort of “Here’s a thing, what do you think about it?” More often than not that style doesn’t seen to work.

**1/2 – Good

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