Which Way Is the Front Line from Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington
“War is the only opportunity that men have in society to love each other.” So says director Sebastian Junger summing up the central tenet of the late Tim Hetherington: war photographer par excellence, and the subject of this tender documentary.
But while this is precisely the sort of contrarian statement one expects from the subject of a documentary, Which Way Is the Front Line from Here? is far from predictable. At turns philosophical, foul-mouthed, blunt – even funny – this is a eulogy for someone you’ve probably never heard of, but you certainly won’t forget his name in a hurry. The film traces Hetherington from his first exposure to war in Liberia, through Afghanistan, and on to Libya where he died following a mortar attack in Misrata in 2011.
Despite Hetherington’s strict background in conflict photojournalism, the film is no generic exposé of the career’s perils. Instead it charts how Hetherington turned the lens away from the guns and onto the men behind them. Men – not women. Women seldom feature in Hetherington’s universe either personally or thematically. But, like a modern day Hemingway, he was obsessed with masculinity and what drives young men to go to war.
In less skilled hands this might be a tired topic, but Junger shapes the photographer’s extensive career into a cohesive argument. He injects new life into Hetherington’s story footage of Liberian rebels dancing as they conduct a fire-fight, or portraits of GIs sleeping like babes in their Afghan “Man Eden”.
The soundtrack by Joel Goodman is superb, the editing a finely-judged thing of beauty, and the blunt honesty of the interviews is touching. For all this, Junger deserves applause. However, for a documentary about a photographer probing into the masculine psyche, it is a shame that Junger shies from exploring the recklessness that drove Hetherington to continually follow the bullets and bodies to where they piled up thickest.
And it is this tragedy that skulks in one’s cerebrum come the film’s conclusion; for all Hetherington’s sumptuous stills it is lingeringly unsettling to watch a photographer join trained rebels in Puma tracksuits on an urban raid. Not document them, join them. War – according to Hetherington – is not a thing to be reported, but lived. That is his lasting legacy, and it’s one that adds a depth of poignancy to this truly exceptional documentary.
Which Way Is the Front Line from Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington is released nationwide on 11th October 2013.
Watch the trailer for Which Way Is the Front Line from Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington here: