Which Way is the Front Line From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington (dir. Sebastian Junger)

To kick off the Sundance Festival, I wrote about must-see documentary, Fire in the Blood, which is playing there. It is a documentary that needs to be seen because it addresses a crisis—the dying of millions of AIDS-infected people in developing nations—that can be stopped (if pharmaceutical companies allow those people to have access to cheaper, generic drugs). Which Way is the Front Line From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington is not as urgent for the sake of humanity, but it’s one that could have a critical, personal, long-term impact on many people who are fortunate enough to see it when it begins screening on Sunday, January 20th.

The film is about photojournalist and filmmaker Tim Hetherington who was killed by a mortar blast while covering the unrest in Libya in 2011. The film is a tribute by director Sebastian Junger, who had codirected, with Hetherington, the Academy Award–nominated and Sundance Grand Jury Prizewinning film Restrepo, about a platoon of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.

But it becomes much more than mere tribute; it captures what Hetherington wanted to achieve in his work, capturing the passion and love of men in combat. The incredible bonus here is you also see it with the photojournalists—the machismo and camaraderie between photographer and his subjects. The film becomes a revelatory examination of men in combat situations, as well as the men who become imbedded with them to tell their stories. Junger reveals in Hetherington a man who lived life to the limit in his pursuit to tell this very human story of men at extremes. Sure, Hetherington probably had his ghosts and faults, but it’s not Junger’s responsibility to tell them.

Senior programmer David Courier told me that Hetherington “will always be Sundance family,” and I imagine it will be quite a moving screening. No one, I’d think, has been more impacted than Junger, who indicates in the film that losing Hetherington has given him an understanding of what war is. Knowing a man like Hetherington can be life-changing. For the rest of us, we may just be getting a small dose by watching this film, but it’s a powerful one.

Which Way is the Front Line From Here? will air on HBO in April.

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Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He is a former Premiere magazine senior editor, who graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom's freelance work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter and other publications. He has written several Kindle Singles, including the bestselling Kindle Singles Interview: Ken Burns. Tom's current list of favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi by Godfrey Reggio; 2. Hoop Dreams by Steve James; 3.Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley; 4.Crumb by Terry Zwigoff; 5. Montage of Heck by Brett Morgen