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.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


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

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.