In the Sundance documentary Which Way Is the Front Line From Here?, Sebastian Junger pays tribute to late war photographer Tim Hetherington, who was killed in 2011 while covering the Libyan civil war. Through interviews with colleagues, archival interviews with Hetherington, as well as footage of Hetherington in the field, Junger offers a powerful examination of what compelled the British war photographer to throw himself in the trenches throughout his 15-year career.
This is a deeply personal film for Junger, who shot the Oscar-nominated Restrepo with Hetherington in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan. Besides Afghanistan, Junger takes you chronologically through Hetherington’s work in other war-torn regions like Sierra Leone and Liberia, where he embedded with a rebel army that was on a mission to oust President Charles Taylor.
As you watch Hetherington engage his subjects, joking with them and putting them at ease (some war photographers never even talk to their subjects), it’s clear he’s not your average adrenaline-addled, thrill-seeking war journalist. He’s not so interested in landing cover photos as he is in understanding the people he films and photographs. “He was a person who seldom became a tourist,” says his father. Or as journalist Chris Anderson puts it: “Tim’s work was not about war. Tim’s work was about human nature.”
The film is full of such poignant insights into Hetherington’s character, but perhaps one of the most telling is offered by his girlfriend Idil Ibrahim: “Walking around with him was almost like walking around with a set of 10 eyes. He was always so inspired. I think we could go to McDonald’s and he’d probably find some kind of creative inspiration there. It was never-ending.” You don’t need to watch more than 10 minutes of the film to understand what she’s talking about. Hetherington is in constant “on” mode, and his restless commitment to understanding the theater of war is nothing short of admirable.
Which Way Is the Front Line From Here?, which will air April 18 on HBO, is a celebration of a brilliant photographer and a bittersweet epilogue to a career cut too short.