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)

Posted by on

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.

Watch More

Bro and Tell

BFFs And Night Court For Sports

Bromance and Comeuppance On Two New Comedy Crib Series

Posted by on

“Silicon Valley meets Girls meets black male educators with lots of unrealized potential.”

That’s how Carl Foreman Jr. and Anthony Gaskins categorize their new series Frank and Lamar which joins Joe Schiappa’s Sport Court in the latest wave of new series available now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. To better acquaint you with the newbies, we went right to the creators for their candid POVs. And they did not disappoint. Here are snippets of their interviews:

Frank and Lamar


IFC: How would you describe Frank and Lamar to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Carl: Best bros from college live and work together teaching at a fancy Manhattan private school, valiantly trying to transition into a more mature phase of personal and professional life while clinging to their boyish ways.

IFC: And to a friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Carl: The same way, slightly less coherent.

Anthony: I’d probably speak about it with much louder volume, due to the bar which would probably be playing the new Kendrick Lamar album. I might also include additional jokes about Carl, or unrelated political tangents.

Carl: He really delights in randomly slandering me for no reason. I get him back though. Our rapport on the page, screen, and in real life, comes out of a lot of that back and forth.

IFC: In what way is Frank and Lamar a poignant series for this moment in time?
Carl: It tells a story I feel most people aren’t familiar with, having young black males teach in a very affluent white world, while never making it expressly about that either. Then in tackling their personal lives, we see these three-dimensional guys navigate a pivotal moment in time from a perspective I feel mainstream audiences tend not to see portrayed.

Anthony: I feel like Frank and Lamar continues to push the envelope within the genre by presenting interesting and non stereotypical content about people of color. The fact that this show brought together so many talented creative people, from the cast and crew to the producers, who believe in the project, makes the work that much more intentional and truthful. I also think it’s pretty incredible that we got to employ many of our friends!

Sport Court

Sport Court gavel

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Joe: SPORT COURT follows Judge David Linda, a circuit court judge assigned to handle an ad hoc courtroom put together to prosecute rowdy fan behavior in the basement of the Hartford Ultradome. Think an updated Night Court.

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Joe: Remember when you put those firecrackers down that guy’s pants at the baseball game? It’s about a judge who works in a court in the stadium that puts you in jail right then and there. I know, you actually did spend the night in jail, but imagine you went to court right that second and didn’t have to get your brother to take off work from GameStop to take you to your hearing.

IFC: Is there a method to your madness when coming up with sports fan faux pas?
Joe: I just think of the worst things that would ruin a sporting event for everyone. Peeing in the slushy machine in open view of a crowd seemed like a good one.

IFC: Honestly now, how many of the fan transgressions are things you’ve done or thought about doing?
Joe: I’ve thought about ripping out a whole row of chairs at a theater or stadium, so I would have my own private space. I like to think of that really whenever I have to sit crammed next to lots of people. Imagine the leg room!

Check out the full seasons of Frank and Lamar and Sport Court now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

Watch More

Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

Posted by on

He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

Watch More

Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

Posted by on
GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

Watch More
Powered by ZergNet