Marie Colvin: a brave journalist, new film/book

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By Caitlin Kelly

Jose and I just saw A Private War, the new film depicting the life of American-born journalist Marie Colvin, a longtime foreign correspondent for The Times of London.

We were fortunate enough to meet its young director — Matthew Heineman, who’s only 35 and who’d never been (!) on a movie set until he directed this one — and heard him interviewed on stage at our local art film house.

The film, emotionally powerful and extremely intense, was filmed mostly in Jordan. It conveys well ambitious journalists’ desire to cover conflict, but also the PTSD that also affects many of the writers, photographers and videographers who do; we have friends who have dealt with this personally.

The film stars British actress Rosamund Pike — whose pale, blond, blue-eyed fragility in films like An Education is gone in this role (one she fought to win, initially planned for Charlize Theron.) She’s terrific.

If you don’t yet know anything about her, Marie Colvin was a complex woman — wearing elegant lingerie into fire-fights and warzones beneath her bullet-proof vest, chain-smoking, hard-drinking. She lost her left eye while covering the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka — and was killed while reporting in Homs, Syria in 2012.

Here’s a book review, from the UK website, The Pool, of a new book about her:

As a child, Marie had played “dead man’s branch” with her younger brothers and sisters. The aim of the game was to climb a tree, pick a branch and move further out along to see who would break it first. “Invariably,” Hilsum writes, “it was Marie who pushed out furthest.” Her ability to push on, for longer, despite the looming danger, would eventually give her the reputation as one of the greatest war reporters of her generation. And, arguably, it was why she went back into Baba Amr, a neighbourhood under siege in Homs, Syria, in February 2012, through a storm drain for the second time – which Hilsum describes as “reckless” – and was killed by a rocket. She was 56.

Her drive to leave what was behind her, and her determination to go further into what was in front of her, was a potent mix, resulting in incredible stories, which Hilsum powerfully brings to life in her biography. Colvin’s breakthrough came in 1987, when she and a photographer made it across a no man’s land in a refugee camp in Beirut, bribing the militia to hold fire for just one minute. Colvin poignantly told the story of a 22-year-old woman shot dead in the crossfire. The story went round the world and three days later a ceasefire was called. Next came East Timor in 1990, when, along with 80 UN workers, Colvin refused to leave despite Hilsum describing the decision as “at worst, suicidal”.

This kind of work changes you for good, even if you emerge from it physically unscathed.

Jose served a month in Bosnia, working there as a photographer for The New York Times, in the winter, at the end of the war there. He didn’t shower for weeks, had little to eat, had to be rescued from a deep snowbank by a passing UN soldier and even slept in an unheated shipping container.

It changed him forever — and that was in 1995.

I wept through some of the scenes in this film. It was too real for me.

The next day he emailed to say he sort of missed it all.

It’s like that.

4 thoughts on “Marie Colvin: a brave journalist, new film/book

  1. this sounds like an incredible and powerful film about what it must feel like to be compelled to let the world know firsthand about what is going on in the world. all this, in spite of what peril may lie ahead. it would be impossible for these experiences not to change a person forever. in light of this, i am not surprised by jose’s response to his experience.

    1. There’s a scene in the film where a friend tells her she’s addicted to war — it happens: the sense of purpose, of camaraderie with others who alone know why you would make that choice, the adrenaline rush…

  2. Pingback: [URBAN NOTE] Some Sunday links | A Bit More Detail

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