Wednesday, August 22, 2012


“An often electrifying verite’ trip into combat and the hearts of men.” -Variety

“An unprecedented work of art.” - New York Magazine

The Film & Art Study continued the Documentary Series on Aug 1, 2012, with a discussion of the Documentary art form in “cinema verite’ style and a presentation of the (2010) American film, RESTREPO, by directors, Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger.         

From Tim Kelly, President of National Geographic Society:

National Geographic is devastated by the tragic news of Tim Hetherington's death in Libya. This is a sad and terrible day. We join the community of dedicated photojournalists and documentarians around the world who are mourning his loss.


Tim Hetherington

Hetherington & Junger at OP RESTREPO


Restrepo explores the year that Junger and Hetherington spent in Afghanistan on assignment for Vanity Fair , embedded with the Second Platoon, B Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (airborne), 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team of the U.S. Army in the Korengal Valley. The 2nd Platoon is depicted defending an Observation Post (OP) named OP Restrepo.

The film follows the 2nd Platoon of Battle Company on a 15-month deployment in the Korengal Valley of northeast Afghanistan  in the Nuristan area. The Korengal flows north to the Pech, which then flows east to the Kunar River valley on the border with Pakistan. The film chronicles the lives of the men from their deployment to the time of their return home. The Korengal Valley was at the time regarded as "the deadliest place on Earth" (as stated in the documentary itself, trailers, and television commercials on the National Geographic Channel). The goal of the deployment was to clear the Korengal Valley of insurgency and gain the trust of the local populace.


Recording Combat, Boredom, Terror

Starting in June 2007, Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger dug in with the men of Second Platoon, making a total of ten trips to the Korengal on assignment for Vanity Fair magazine and ABC News. Each trip started with a helicopter flight into the main firebase in the valley and then a two-hour foot patrol out to Restrepo. There was no running water at Restrepo, no Internet, no phone communication, and for a while, there was no electricity or heat—it was essentially just sandbags and ammo. Some days the outpost was attacked three or four times from distances as close as 50 yards.

Hetherington and Junger—sometimes working together, sometimes alone—did everything the soldiers did except pull guard duty and shoot back during firefights. They slept alongside the soldiers, ate with them, survived the boredom and the heat and the cold and the flies with them, went on patrol with them, and eventually came to be considered virtually part of the platoon. By the end of the deployment, they had shot a total of 150 hours of combat, boredom, humor, terror, and daily life at the outpost.

Conditions for filmmaking couldn’t have been harsher. The surrounding mountains rose to a height of 10,000 feet—which was traversed on foot. Long operations meant carrying enough camera batteries to last a week or more, on top of the 50 or so pounds of gear required on even ordinary patrols. Cameras got smashed into rocks, clogged with dirt, and hit with shell cartridges during firefights.  

40 mm Grenades in Bandoleer

Men were killed and wounded during filming, so there was a constant issue of when it was OK to turn on the cameras and when it was not. Only the filmmakers’ close relationships with the men of the platoon allowed them to keep shooting in situations where other journalists might have been told to stop.
Three months after the end of the deployment, Hetherington and Junger traveled to Vicenza, Italy, where the unit is based. They used two VariCams, a full light and sound package, and two cameramen to conduct in-depth interviews with their main characters.

These interviews—initially considered a kind of glue for the verité and a way to avoid outside narration—wound up being some of the most powerful and affecting material of the entire project. The soldiers were able to allow themselves a level of emotion and introspection that is simply not possible in combat.  


Interview With Sebastian Junger & Tim Hetherington 

How did you come across this particular assignment? What brought you there? Why did it appeal to you?

Sebastian Junger: We were on assignment for Vanity Fair and ABC News. After an embed with Battle Company in 2005, I’d had the idea of following one platoon for an entire deployment and both writing a book and making a documentary about their experience.

We hear the initial reactions of the soldiers upon learning that they’ve been assigned to the Korengal Valley. What was your first impression of Korengal?
When I stepped off the helicopter in June ’07 I was stunned by the ruggedness of the terrain—and the beauty. Then again, I didn’t have to spend a year there, and I assumed the fighting would be minimal, which of course it wasn’t.

What kind of advice or protection did the soldiers offer you while you were shooting? Did you receive any training or safety guidelines prior to shipping out?
They knew Tim and I had been in plenty of wars before this, so they didn’t really offer any advice. Once or twice during combat I was advised where good cover was (it depends on what direction they’re shooting from).

Did you take turns with the camera?
Tim Hetherington:
We each had a camera and filmed more or less of our own volition. If I was busy taking stills, Sebastian would make sure to cover the camerawork. There were scenes where we were both shooting, and we would divide things up in a crude manner—I’d take the wides, he’d take the tights, or I’d shoot the Afghans while he shot the Americans.

What limits were placed on your access?
No limits at all on access—none. There was a stated agreement that we would not shoot wounded American soldiers—or would get their OK later—and I think there was an understanding that we would be very sensitive about filming the dead. The Army asks to review a rough cut later for security and privacy concerns, but they had no issues.

Did you stay the entire duration of their deployment?
: No, we did five trips each, sometimes together, sometimes not. Each trip lasted around a month.

How much footage was shot? Did you ship footage back as you went along?
: We shot 150 hours of footage, and we’d bring our footage back on each trip and copy it and log it. We also shot around 40 hours of interviews at the soldiers’ base in Italy about three months after the deployment.

Who are these soldiers? Did you get any distinct impressions of them, where they came from, why they were there?
No one had followed a platoon for an entire duration of [its] deployment, so we became incredibly close to many of the soldiers. They came from a variety of backgrounds and had joined the Army for a myriad of competing reasons. Some said they needed to get out of their parents’ home and saw the Army as offering them independence; others [said] that they were seeking a rite of passage and new experiences. Many didn't think they had many options open to them and saw the Army as the best opportunity on offer. They came from all over the U.S.—many from Texas and California, others from faraway places like Guam.

What kind of dynamic did you have with your subjects?
Each trip the dynamic got more and more relaxed and comfortable. It became clear to the soldiers that we were not doing a political story and that we were comfortable in that environment—and that we were willing to take the same risks they were and endure the same discomforts. Tim broke his leg in combat; I ripped my Achilles tendon. Then I got blown up, but none of those things kept us from going back out there.

After being under fire for a sustained period, how would you describe the effect it has on you? Did you notice any change in the soldiers over the course of your time with them?
Both of us have been war reporters for some time now, so this was not our first experience being shot at. Being in a combat zone can be both exhilarating and terrifying, combined with long stretches of boredom. Things appear very simple in a war zone as the clutter of daily living recedes with the larger equation of being killed or staying alive. Mix this with being drip-fed adrenalin, and inevitably it's going to make “coming back” incredibly difficult. I think this is something that the soldiers experienced, and to a lesser extent we also.

In one scene, we see a soldier making small talk during serious acts of war. It’s quite affecting. Why did you choose to include it? Were there other moments like this that struck you?
There's a great emphasis in war reporting on capturing the actual “bang-bang” fighting of war—and many reporters feel that any work would be incomplete without a sense of this “action.” We were no different, but because there was an incredible amount of fighting going on in the Korengal Valley, recording the actual firefights got quite boring. What was infinitely more interesting and revealing was how the soldiers carried on in these situations. People who haven't experienced war inevitably base their understanding of it [on] the mediated versions of news or Hollywood. These representations are often limited and can't quite reveal the humor, boredom, and confusion inherent in combat. It's something we felt was important to represent.

The film shows how multifaceted the role of the captain is with respect to his team and the village—being able not only to advance the military goal but also having to communicate the humanitarian aspects too. Were there any dynamics that you hadn’t anticipated that you were especially glad to have captured?
I was unprepared for just how smart and dedicated the officers were, and many of the enlisted men as well. I was also amazed by how open and welcoming they were with us, the press. It was not what I had anticipated.

Were there any interactions with the village people or elders that you wish you could have included in the film?
There were many, many scenes of all types that we were heartbroken not to include in the film. There were very funny moments in the shuras—the meetings with the elders—and also very intense moments when someone was very angry. There were several scenes of locals saying how much they hated the Taliban and gave up information on them, and other scenes where they clearly hated the Americans and wanted them to leave. All of it shows the complexity of this kind of war, but we couldn’t put everything into the movie.

The film is very balanced and doesn’t lead the viewer but rather shows it how it is. Did you have any guiding principles about how and what you shot as well as how you edited and shaped the film ultimately?
We were not interested in the political dimensions of the war, only the experience of the soldiers, so we limited ourselves to the things soldiers had access to. We did not ask any generals why they were in the Korengal, for example, because soldiers don’t have that opportunity, either. Our guiding principle was that we would only have people in the movie who were fighting in the Korengal. It was that principle that excluded Tim and me from the movie as well … and prevented us from using an outside narrator.
TH: It was a conscious choice. We are journalists, and as such, we are not supposed to “lead” people to a certain opinion. That is called advocacy, and it certainly has its special place in the media world, but as journalists, it’s not something we wanted to engage in.


Restrepo received the Grand Jury Prize for best documentary at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. It received a certified fresh rating of 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. Roger Ebert awarded Restrepo four out of four stars.  Additionally, numerous critics and publications included it in their annual top film selections.

was named as one of the top documentary films of 2010 by the National Board of Review.

It was nominated for the 2011 Academy Award for Best Documentary which was won by Inside Job.

Restrepo was directed by Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger.
Rated R, 93 min, Dolby Digital, 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio.


The US Army has several variants of Infantryman. They are distinguished by the weapons they use or the way they are inserted into the battlefield. The job classification for Infantryman (or foot soldier) in the US Army is referred to as 11B (Bravo).

11B - Infantry

Light Infantry
Light Infantry:

Today the term "light" denotes, in the United States table of organization and equipment, units lacking heavy weapons and armor or with a reduced vehicle footprint. Light infantry units lack the lethality, tactical mobility and survivability of heavy units, but possess greater operational mobility and the ability to execute missions under restrictive terrain and weather that may otherwise impair a heavy unit's mobility. Light infantry forces typically rely on their ability to operate under restrictive conditions, surprise, violence of action, training, stealth, field craft, and fitness level of the individual soldier to address their reduced lethality. Ironically, forces in a light unit will normally carry heavier individual loads versus other forces; they must carry everything they require to fight, survive and win due to lack of vehicles. Although units like the 101st Airborne (Air Assault) and the 82nd Airborne Division are categorized as Air Assault Infantry and Airborne Infantry respectively, they fall under the overall concept of light infantry.

Indirect Fire Infantry

Infantry Mortarman (Indirect Fire Infantry - 11C):

Mortarmen are responsible for the tactical employment of the 60mm light mortar and the 81mm medium mortar. Mortarmen provide indirect fire in support of the rifle and LARS (Light Armored Reconnaissance Squad) quads/platoons/companies and the infantry and LAR battalions. They are located in the weapons platoons of the rifle and LAR companies and the weapons company of the infantry battalion. Noncommissioned officers are assigned as mortar gunners, forward observers, fire direction plotters, and squad and section leaders.

Heavy Anti-Armor Infantry

Heavy Anti-Armor Weapons Infantryman (11H):

A Heavy Anti-Armor Weapons Infantryman operates weapons and equipment in ground combat operations while deploying in an uparmored HMMWV (Humvee). Duties include operating and maintaining weapons, such as TOW Missile system, rifles, machine guns, mortars, and hand grenades; locating, constructing, and camouflaging infantry positions and equipment; evaluating terrain and recording topographical information; operating and maintaining field communications equipment; assessing need for and directing supporting fire; placing explosives and performing minesweeping activities on land; and participating in basic reconnaissance operations.  

Mechanized Infantry

Mechanized Infantryman (11M):

The fighting vehicle infantryman leads, supervises, and serves as a member of a fighting vehicle unit or activity employing vehicular and dismounted weapons in combat operations. Duties for MOS 11M at each level of skill are: 

Skill Level 1. Performs duties as IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicle) driver, gunner, or fire team member. Operates both mounted and dismounted to close with and destroy the enemy. Employs, operates, and maintains assigued weapons and equipment. Employs proper dismounted movement techniques, cover, concealment, and camouflage as part of dismount team. Performs basic communication functions and operates platoon communications equipment. Constructs individual fighting positions. Assists in the construction of fortification and barriers, including minefields and obstacles. Assist in the breaching of minefields and obstacles. Collects and reports tactical information as member of combat or reconnaissance patrol. Operates IFV over varied terrain in varied visibility. Conducts preventive maintenance checks and serv ices on the IFV and its components. Assists in target detection, identification, and round sensing. 

Airborne Infantry

Airborne Infantry (11B-Airborne):

Airborne forces are military units, usually light infantry, set up to be moved by aircraft and "dropped" into battle. Thus they can be placed behind enemy lines, and have the capability to deploy almost anywhere with little warning. The formations are limited only by the number and size of their aircraft, so given enough capacity a huge force can appear "out of nowhere" in minutes, an action referred to as vertical envelopment.

Conversely, airborne forces typically lack the supplies and equipment for prolonged combat operations, and are therefore more suited for airhead operations than long-term occupation; furthermore, parachute operations are particularly sensitive to adverse weather conditions. Advances in helicopter technology since World War II have brought increased flexibility to the scope of airborne operations, and Air Assaults have largely replaced large-scale parachute operations, and (almost) completely replaced combat glider operations. However, due to the limited range of helicopters and the limited number of troops that can be transported by them many countries retain Paratroopers as a valuable strategic asset.

Air Assault Infantry

Air Assault Infantry (11B-Air Assault):

Air assault is the movement of ground-based military forces by vertical take-off and landing(VTOL) aircraft—such as the helicopter—to seize and hold key terrain which has not been fully secured, and to directly engage enemy forces.  In addition to regular infantry training, air-assault units usually receive training in rappelling and air transportation, and their equipment is sometimes designed or field-modified to allow better transportation within aircraft.

Due to the transport load restrictions of helicopters, air assault forces are usually light infantry, though some armored fighting vehicles, like the Russian BMD-1 are designed to fit most heavy lift helicopters, which enable assaulting forces to combine air mobility with a certain degree of ground mechanization. Invariably the assaulting troops are highly dependent on aerial fire support provided by armed helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft escorting the VTOL. 

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