Passages: Tim Hetherington

Tim Hetherington

Tim Hetherington. Photo by Justin Hoch.

Tragic news from Libya: photojournalist Tim Hetherington was killed yesterday while covering a battle between government forces and rebels in the city of Misrata, along with a colleague, Getty Images photographer Chris Hondros.

If Hetherington’s name sounds familiar, it’s probably because he was the director of Restrepo, a documentary released last year that followed a platoon of American soldiers for one year as they fought their way through Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley.

To make that movie, Hetherington and his crew embedded with the platoon for the entire year.  The result was a real treasure; an observant, insightful document of a kind that doesn’t come around very often. Restrepo was widely praised as one of 2010’s best films and was nominated for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar.

Restrepo was a postcard from a world that most Americans would seemingly prefer not to be reminded exists — a world where a tiny handful of young men and women put their lives on the line every day in a war that rages seemingly without end, its original objectives vanished into mist, an infernal machine running now on its own momentum.  Those men and women are out there because we, at least nominally, asked them to go.  They work and fight and die in our names every day.  But their sacrifices, sadly, have become disconnected somehow from the culture they volunteered to defend.

Restrepo is a mighty attempt to restore that connection — to bring the Long War home to the people it’s being fought for.  It’s not a political statement, and it doesn’t mount an argument for or against that war; it just shows you, up close and in high definition, what it’s like to be one of those kids sitting, day after day, on a ridgeline in the most dangerous place in the world.  Every American who considers themselves worthy of the name should see it.

It’s available now on DVD and Blu-Ray, as well as for instant streaming via Netflix. Here’s the trailer:

Hetherington’s death underlines the risks he and his fellow combat correspondents run every day to bring these important stories to us.  You owe it to yourself, and to those young men and women out there on the front lines, to listen.