Last night's screening of Restrepo at the Texas Theatre and the accompanying photography exhibit at the Oak Cliff Cultural Center lead the audience through a close examination of poignantly heartbreaking global realities. From the soldiers in combat in Restrepo to the dust-coated survivors of the September 11th attacks in a photograph by James Nachtwey, the film and exhibit zoomed in on the people directly affected by conflict.
It was intensely personal with images beautifully composed and their subjects undeniably real.
Tim Hetherington, the filmmaker who created Restrepo with Sebastian Junger, was killed covering the conflict in Libya on April 20. He was originally scheduled to speak at last night's screening, but instead, the curators of the exhibit, Charles Dee Mitchell and Cynthia Mulcahy, told the audience of about 150 people that the night was in Hetherington's honor. "It's a devastating loss of a filmmaker, humanitarian, and artist," Mulcahy said.
Restrepo opens with a group of soldiers goofing off while riding a train in Italy, where they were stationed before their deployment. Juan Restrepo, the namesake of the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan outpost where the film takes place, jokes with the other soldiers and says they are "loving life and getting ready to go to war." The light scene is a foil to all that's coming -- minutes later, a Humvee of soldiers is nearly destroyed by a roadside bomb. Shortly after the action begins, the audience learns Juan Restrepo was his platoon's second casualty, killed less than two months into their deployment.
His loss and the loss of others is palpable throughout the film. The audience is placed alongside the soldiers as they move ahead, fighting on after losing men, and alternating between digging and fighting until outpost Restrepo is complete.
Scenes from the Korengal Valley are juxtaposed with testimonials from the soldiers fighting on the screen in an incredibly moving mixture of action and reflection. In a few instances throughout the film, you can hear Junger and Hetherington asking the soldiers questions from behind the camera. This could easily go unnoticed, but with Hetherington's tragic passing, these brief and subtle moments add another layer of complexity and immediacy.
Photos by Hetherington are also included in the Cultural Center exhibit, XXI: Conflicts in a New Century. The personal nature of the soldier's everyday lives in Restrepo carries through Hetherington's portraits of soldiers. One image of a soldier with the word 'Infidel' tattooed across his chest and another portrait of a soldier holding his helmet with a photo of his wife tucked inside are two of the most striking photos in their simplicity.
In its entirety, XXI: Conflicts in a New Century, provides a nuanced view of conflict with images from Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Congo, and elsewhere sharing wall-space and playing off each other, generating appreciation of the art for it's own sake as well as its role as a lens into lives not often seen up-close.
If you were unable to attend last night's event, the photography exhibit is on display until June 3rd, and, Restrepo is available on iTunes and Netflix.
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