The film begins almost immediately in combat, following U.S. soldiers as they battle the Taliban before transitioning to follow Sergeant Nathan Harris, who appears in the opening fire fight, as he and his wife attempt to find a parking space outside of a North Carolina Walmart. Harris is now in a wheel chair recovering from being shot in the hip. The film transitions back and forth between Sgt. Harris in Afghanistan and Nathan Harris in North Carolina, linking his wartime experiences to the post-traumatic stress and excruciating recovery he faces at home.
After the screening, Danfung Dennis took questions from the crowd and commented that he was motivated to make the film because he felt his photographs were not resonating with the public. With a public that is unwilling to take a closer look at the current U.S.-led military campaigns, I'm not sure many people will see 'Hell and Back Again', but those who do will leave the theatre wide-eyed and speechless.
I also attended a fundraising screening of 'Restrepo', which honoured co-director and photojournalist Tim Hetherington, who was recently killed by an RPG while covering the civil war in Libya. 'Restrepo' made the festival circuit last year, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary earlier this year. The film follows a U.S. platoon over their 15 month deployment in southern Afghanistan's Korengal Valley, where they spend their time being shot at by unseen enemies and make futile attempts at winning the trust of the local population.
Before 'Restrepo' screened, Hetherington's 'Diary' was shown. The experimental documentary of life as a war reporter made the rounds online soon after his passing, and it's definitely worth watching for its powerful imagery and storytelling.