Sebastian Junger to His Late Friend Tim Hetherington: "Why Weren't You Wearing a Bulletproof Vest?"

Categories: Film and TV
junger and tim hetherington.jpg
courtesy Vanity Fair
As we continue to process how a life can end in an instant as it did during the Boston Marathon bombings, HBO offers an unusual and powerful documentary premiere tonight. Which Way is the Front Line From Here? recounts the life and death of war photographer Tim Hetherington and was directed by Sebastian Junger, Hetherington's co-director of Restrepo, which earned the pair an Academy Award nomination. Hetherington was killed by a mortar shell in Libya two years ago, a loss that led Junger to retire from war reporting.

"When Tim died, I was 49, 50, and I just realized there's a point where you're not the most important thing in your own life and what you want isn't more important than what's good for others," Junger told Cultist. "And I suddenly was realizing the effect of Tim's death on everyone he loved, including me, and I just didn't want to risk doing that to everyone I love. Suddenly, it was very clear."

See also:
- Sebastian Junger on Which Way? and His Secret Next Film
- Junger and Dan Kearney Talk Restrepo, a Doc About a Fallen Florida Soldier

Junger, the bestselling author of The Perfect Storm and War, was in town last month to show the doc at the Miami International Film Festival. Amidst the ersatz tropicalia of The Standard's lounge, Junger, dressed in a suit for the film's premiere later that night, ducked under the frond of a potted plant as he joined us. From an overstuffed sofa, he recalled his experiences in the hot and foreign dangers that were now a world and a career away.

"I'd answered all of my questions about war, about myself," he said. "I'd answered them. Then Tim got killed. And people think you're risking your life when you're going to war but you're actually risking the emotional lives of everyone else. You're dead. You're the least of the problem. And I just realized that about Tim and I was like, 'Shit, I just don't want to do that.'

"War reporting is, in some ways, quite easy. It's very dramatic so you don't have to work that hard as a storyteller to make an impression on people. It's kind of served to you on a platter. And to take a quieter story and to get people to pay attention is a far greater feat of journalism or filmmaking."

So, in Which Way, Junger looks for that quieter story within the chaos of war, often letting Hetherington's still images speak silently for themselves.

"I felt like his work in war zones was absolutely essential, but I also wanted to avoid the tired cliché of the sort of adrenaline junkie war journalist because that was not what Tim was. And so, as much as we needed to talk about war, we also needed to make sure that the other aspects of his character were really well illuminated."

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