DID YOU READ

A Spirited Q & A With “Restrepo” Co-Directors Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger

A Spirited Q & A With “Restrepo” Co-Directors Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger (photo)

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As a way of celebrating this year’s nominees for the Spirit Awards in the weeks leading up to the ceremony, we reached out to as many as we could in an effort to better understand what went into their films, what they’ve gotten out of the experience, and where they’ve found their inspiration, both in regards to their work and other works of art that might’ve inspired them from the past year. Their answers will be published on a daily basis throughout February.

How far would you go for a work of art? Directors Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger went all the way to a remote part of Afghanistan to bring us their powerful documentary “Restrepo.” And when they got there, all they did was spend ten months in the middle of some of the most intense fighting in the war. When they were shot at, when they were blown up by a roadside bomb, they didn’t flinch. Even more impressively, they kept the cameras rolling.

This seems like an astonishing sacrifice, but I imagine Hetherington and Junger don’t look at it that way. They would probably argue that they made no sacrifice greater than that of their subjects, the men of U.S. Outpost Restrepo, and they who don’t view what they’re doing as a sacrifice either. For the soldiers stationed at Restrepo, a tiny 15-man encampment on top of a hill in the middle of intimidating Korengal Valley, their work in Afghanistan is exactly that: a job. A dangerous job, but a job nonetheless.

Hetherington and Junger’s film makes no attempt to justify or contextualize the activities at Restrepo, when you’re in taking fire and mortars, justification and context don’t matter very much. Their approach brings the War in Afghanistan into terrifying clarity for those of us fortunate enough to previously know it only as a talking point on news programs.

“Restrepo” makes us reconsider not only the war in Afghanistan, but movie violence in general. It’s hard to look at gunfights onscreen the same way after you’ve seen it. In fiction movies, we never see bullets, just muzzle flashes and men falling over. Most times, there isn’t even any blood. “Restrepo” shows us the reality: when you are in a firefight, you can actually see bullets flying at you, red hot lead slicing through the sky like flying razors. I will never forget that image as long as I live.

I think it’s telling that Hetherington and Junger answered our Spirit Awards questionnaire in a single voice, as their film was clearly a very successful collaboration between two dedicated artists and journalists. The film is about collaboration, too; fifteen or so men defending this untenable outpost against an endless barrage of enemy fire. What you take away from “Restrepo” aren’t the things they accomplished; but they tireless effort they made trying to accomplish them. That goes for Hetherington and Junger too.

Why did you want to make this film?

We felt that – amidst all the political discord about the war – very few people back home understood what the actual soldiers themselves go through. We wanted to make a film that communicated that in as immersive and powerful a way as possible. As journalists we have very strong feelings about the war, but we hoped that a neutral film would allow people across the political spectrum to connect with the topic. It’s not hard – or original – to create a film that condemns war; any realistic film will do that well enough. The problem with that approach, however, is that you wind up preaching to the converted and alienating everyone else. We wanted our film to impact everyone in the country. The war itself doesn’t seem to be doing that; but maybe our film could.

What was the best piece of advice you received that applied to the making of this film?

Do not, under and circumstances, cede editorial control of the film to anyone else. We had to walk away from a deal and independently finance the film – a terrifying move at the height of the recession – in order to retain full control. But it was worth it.

What was the toughest thing to overcome, whether it applies to a particular scene or the film as a whole?

We spent a total of ten months, between the two of us, filming in the Korengal valley. Frankly, all of it was tough. We did not have a “film crew” or any outside support; we each carried a video camera and shot this film with whatever equipment we could carry on our backs – along with all the gear we needed to survive in that environment. Restrepo was a two hour walk up a steep mountain at 5000 feet. Physically, shooting this film was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. And emotionally it was even harder. We got very close to those guys, and the retrospective interviews we did in Italy were absolutely gut-wrenching. Every soldier spent much of those interviews struggling not to cry. What the camera does not show is the filmmakers struggling with those same overwhelming emotions. It was extremely hard on everyone involved.

What’s been the most memorable moment while you’ve traveled with the film, either at a festival or otherwise?

Over and over again we have heard that the soldiers themselves can’t speak very easily about their experiences, so their wives and families are never able to understand this thing that has effected their men so profoundly. So at screenings, we would often hear from the wife or mother of a soldier that they FINALLY understand this strange world called ‘combat.’ It was as if they were able to peek through a keyhole into this very male world that they otherwise could never enter. Those encounters were always very moving and meaningful.

What’s your favorite thing about your film that’s been largely uncommented upon?

The embed program, which places journalists with frontline combat units, is often looked at very skeptically by the general public. In fact, we exploited that program to shoot footage that is almost never seen in this country. Our movie contains scenes of Afghan civilian casualties, of a dead American soldier, of soldiers scared or sobbing in grief or openly celebrating the killing of an enemy fighter. To their credit, the US military never tried to impede us from shooting or disseminating these images in any way. As journalists, we feel that it is extremely important that the American public have access to this information. But we are not sure that people understand how incredible it is that we were given the open access that we were to this particular platoon.

What’s been the most gratifying thing to come out of this film for you personally?

As journalists, we are not accustomed to forming an emotional bond with our subjects. We were able to retain a healthy political neutrality in the film, but on a personal level, the experience of getting so close to the men in the platoon was a profound one. It affected us in many ways, emotionally. Neither of us will ever be the same again, I think.

What’s been your favorite film, book or album from the past year?

Tim Hetherington’s favorite was ‘Carlos’ by Olivier Assayas. Sebastian Junger’s favorite was ‘A Prophet’ by Jacques Audiard.

“Restrepo” is now available on DVD, Blu-ray, iTunes and Netflix Instant, among other services. The Spirit Awards will air on IFC on February 26th.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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