Vanity Fair confirms that award winning photojournalist and documentarian Tim Hetherington was killed yesterday, the victim of an RPG attack in Misrata, Libya. Hetherington was in Libya covering the country’s ongoing civil war. He was 40 years old.
The independent film world best knew Hetherington for “Restrepo,” the documentary he directed with fellow Vanity Fair journalist Sebastian Junger about the war in Afghanistan. The film, about the day-to-day life and work of American soldiers at a military outpost, was an Academy Award and Spirit Award nominee for Best Documentary and won the Grand Jury Prize for documentaries at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.
We covered “Restrepo” extensively at IFC.com from its first premiere at Sundance. I interviewed Junger and Hetherington, and Alison Willmore reviewed the film. Later, Stephen Saito, filed two different features on the film, a report on a screening at the True/False Festival and a Q&A with Junger and Hetherington to commemorate their Spirit Award nomination. Here are Stephen’s thoughts on Hetherington:
“During last summer’s press tour for ‘Restrepo,’ I had the opportunity to spend a half-hour with Tim Hetherington and his partner on the film and book Sebastian Junger. Of course, it wasn’t even close to the amount of time it would take to properly get to know someone, but more than enough to intuit what a humble and gracious gentleman he was, which given his line of work might come as a surprise. As Hetherington’s friends and colleagues have attested in one memorial after another, the man didn’t have the usual makeup for the occupation – he wasn’t an adrenaline junkie and his desire to capture great images was exceeded by his responsibility to finding the truth. Even more amazingly, he did not seem hardened by what he had seen, but instead all the more eager to convey the complexities of war that too few are willing or able to actually report on and was able to recognize through his lens the nobility in those that fought.”
I wrote the introduction to one of Stephen’s interviews with Hetherington and Junger. Today, I keep rereading this passage from that piece:
“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.”
Even after all of “Restrepo”‘s acclaim, Hetherington didn’t flinch, didn’t stop. He did his job. But he didn’t just make that sacrifice for art. He did it for the truth.
You can read more about Hetherington’s life and work at Vanity Fair and watch “Restrepo” on Netflix Watch Instantly or on the National Geographic Channel next Monday night at 9:00 PM. Finally, here is Hetherington’s last film, “Diary” from 2010: