Film review: Which Way Is the Front Line from Here?: The Life and Times of Tim Hetherington

Sebastian Junger, 79mins (15)

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The Independent Culture

There is a nagging sense of waste and futility about the circumstances in which the brilliant photo-journalist Tim Hetherington died aged only 40 in Misrata, Libya, in 2011. He didn't need to be there.

In this documentary, made by his close friend and collaborator Junger (who co-directed the Oscar-nominated Restrepo with him), Hetherington emerges as an inspirational figure. He had an uncanny ability to build up a rapport with his subjects, whether they were macho US soldiers in Afghanistan, blind kids in Sierra Leone, poor fishermen or Liberian freedom fighters. His best photography bears comparison with that of Don McCullin in its intimate, unflinching and often offbeat quality (for example, his pictures of sleeping American soldiers).

He speaks very eloquently about the camaraderie, adrenalin rush and emotional freedom that soldiers felt in their close-knit world. (Hetherington coined the phrase "Man Eden'' to describe this state.) He could see the attraction of war for young males. That attraction seems to have been shared by the war photographers and journalists (Hetherington himself included) who swarmed to Misrata in 2011.

As one photojournalist interviewee points out, they were so keen to get to the Front Line that they were ahead of the rebels themselves. Junger's very moving film makes clear just how much Hetherington achieved in his short career but isn't afraid to grapple with the strange circumstances of his untimely death.