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Persona

Restrepo

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Link to The Devil Came on Horseback, in which Hetherington was the cinematographer.

My buddy BroRusso is a huge lover of documentary filmmaking -- a lot of my recent rediscovery of the form has been under his influence.

Here is the trailer for the 2010 Sundance Documentary Winner this year -- Restrepo. I learn more in images such as these in the trailer, than in a thousand news stories combined.

Search: Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger, Taliban, military, soldier, platoon, Korangal Valley, Afghanistan, Operation Rock Avalanche.

Edited by Persona

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Junger's name caught my eye. I've been reading about his new book. I followed the link to your friend's site and discovered the movie/book connection. Sounds good.

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Release date on this is 6/25. Just watched and an still processing. Looking forward to press day with Hetherington and Junger in a week or so.

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Really good roundtable today - I'll start transcribing tomorrow. Hope to have it up before Friday opening, but I have 2 screeners that open Friday as well. My review for Restrepo is done, and hope the interviews will be up too.

Sine JO put a post at FB about The Tillman Story, I thought I should note that one of the reporters at the interview today saw this at the LA film Festival and said these two would make a great double feature.

Yeah, if you like seeing American soldiers killed. No, that could be misunderstood. I haven't seen Tillman and wouldn't want to disparage Restrepo.

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I personally see this as an important film, but one that will most likely sit in obscurity for years. It'll be forgotten until someone eventually says, "Why the hell are we still in the middle east, because we can't even remember why we're there, if we ever knew." Then people will remember this film and wonder why more didn't see it when it came out.

I think this one stands out, no question -- but it is very much like twenty or so other films in the past few years which come out, and we think, that's awful, we can't live in that world, and nothing changes, ever.

One of the most telling titles came post-film which basically said that troops have fully pulled out of this area in the past six months.

This is a war that cannot be won and is only making matters worse for future generations.

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Great interview. I am going to print it out so I can sit down and read the whole thing. It really was responsible filmmaking, wasn't it?

I didn't talk about this, at least not directly, but the best reason for the argument, "This war is not winnable" is found in key scenes with locals in Restrepo. We don't know who we are fighting, we don't know who we can trust, we can't tell the difference between a civilian and a soldier, and family members don't want to rat anyone out, for reasons of blood ties as well as fear. It is very pointed here in the Korenga -- never actually said, but how could you think otherwise?

Edited by Persona

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From the latest Non-lollipop Docs:

Restrepo, named for a fallen comrade, follows a year in the life of US soldiers in the deadliest valley in Afghanistan. The Korengal Valley has actually been called one of the deadliest places in the world; Vanity Fair contributing editor Sebastian Junger and photographer Tim Hetherington spent a year there being shot at and tracking soldiers, trying to understand this war. The intense footage of our men in the region, of which photos are posted here, is more damning than even the 91,000 documents leaked about the war this week. Visuals in general are more gripping and harder to push away than the printed words in classified papers.

This 2010 Sundance Documentary Winner reports in 93 minutes why the cries "unwinnable" indeed have merit. We see decent, good, scared young men, bleeding and fighting for what their country has told them is right. The country has since abandoned the region, pulling out after scrambling men there for years and leaving assorted dead Americans in its wake. We might at some point be inclined to ask, "What for?"

The valley is a symbol for a war that cannot be won. A war that only makes matters worse for future generations. The doc is a testament to the power of truth in image. I only hope that more people choose to see it, and that it burns in them what it cemented in me.

My friend Darrel took part in a roundtable discussion with the directors. There is excellent info there on the valley, the war and the film. Check out the film and interview, and protest in whatever way you can.

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Persona wrote:

: Check out the film and interview, and protest in whatever way you can.

That's interesting, as one of the impressions I've been getting is that this film is neutral at most on the question of whether U.S. troops should be there, and the filmmakers are even suspected of being basically pro-war (for lack of a better term).

I haven't been following the coverage very closely, mind, because I've been hoping to see the film first (it hasn't opened here yet), but reactions like these seem to be at least a little at odds with what we've seen at A&F so far.

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Huh. I guess I can see it both ways. But if he was in those trenches with bullets flying overhead and it did turn him to admire and love the soldiers, and if admiring and trusting them did make him want to protect them and support them, thus turning him pro-war, then putting up that last sign at the end of the film that basically says "We gave up on the Korengal Valley" doesn't really help his own point.

After all you watch, seeing that final note makes your stomach turn.

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Here is Junger from Darrel's roundtable discussion, does it help?

Let me jump in, because I talk about this in my book War too—this objectivity question. I say in my book there wasn't a chance of being objective. I mean Tim and I were both almost killed several times. There's just no way. I was blown up by an IED. There's no way I'm going to be objective about the people who almost killed me. My bond with the men in the platoon was the least of my problems when it came to objectivity. There are great journalists out there who are covering the broader picture of the war. This particular perspective had never been done. I think the only way to really triangulate the truth in war isn't to have one person pretend that there's absolute objectivity, but actually have many journalists covering different sides.

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Persona wrote:

: Here is Junger from Darrel's roundtable discussion, does it help?

Without seeing the movie, no, I'm not sure it does. (And I was slightly wrong, BTW, when I said the film hadn't opened here yet; it actually opens tomorrow. But I won't be anywhere close to having a chance to see it until Wednesday or Thursday at the earliest.)

If I take that excerpt literally, it sounds almost like Junger is saying that there should be journalists embedded with the Taliban -- journalists who would be "almost killed" by American or Canadian or British attacks, and who therefore might not feel very objective about "our" side. But that seems a little odd to me. When I take a step back and look at the quote again, a different interpretation comes to mind: it seems that, by "different sides", he does not necessarily mean America vs Taliban, but Broader Picture vs. Embedded Picture (or whatever you want to call it).

It also occurs to me that ending a movie by saying "we gave up the territory that we had been fighting for" might not be a call to give up on the war altogether; it might be a call to redouble our efforts, or to direct our efforts more wisely, or something like that. But again, I haven't seen the film yet, so I don't know how it plays in context.

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I think Restrepo might well be an inkblot in terms of how one thinks of the war in Afghanistan. I remember back to my high school days ('60s) going to a 4th of July parade in Orange County. The John Birch Society had a huge group marching, each carrying the name of a Californian killed in Vietnam. My impression was that we should get out, that no one else should die there. That wasn't their point. At the end of all these marchers was the float that said "Don't let them die in vain." I think both of those reaction could grow out of watching Restrepo.

For the record, I'm the one who brought up the journalistic ideal of objectivity (the word "ideal" purposely used) to let them speak about that issue. If I had a long period of conversation with them, I'd love to hear their thoughts on an old Fred Friendly ethics series on PBS in which they had news people talking about these very situation - including being embedded with the enemy. (Possibly this program)

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Got around to seeing this finally with my brother during the holidays. Great, high quality, heartwrenching stuff. I don't know particularly how to rank a documentary like this in a year's top ten, but it definitely feels like it belongs in the top ten. It was interesting watching it with my brother, because he just got back from spending a year in Afghanistan about 3 months ago. He was actually stationed a couple small valleys away (from the Korengal valley less than a year after they had pulled out of it), had a pretty rough time over there, and wanted to show the film to some of the family as the most apt description of the sort of thing he and his friends had to deal with. If the guys coming back from Afghanistan are recommending this to everyone else, I don't know what better recommendation the film could get.

One of the most telling titles came post-film which basically said that troops have fully pulled out of this area in the past six months. This is a war that cannot be won and is only making matters worse for future generations.

Yeah, I kept hearing that this was the conclusion of the film so I was surprised when my brother told me he liked it, and more surprised after it was over because it never reached any such conclusion. To be fair, Restrepo is NOT arguing that the war in Afghanistan can't be won. I read a few conservative reviews of the film, some of whom criticized the film for NOT taking any political stance. But I find Junger and Hetherington particularly honest by the whole just focusing on the troops thing -

There is no commentary, however, from politicians, military brass, family, or the filmmakers themselves, who have studiously stripped away any political context for their subject. “The only goal,” they say in their press kit, “is to make viewers feel as if they have just been through a 94-minute deployment. This is war, full stop. The conclusions are up to you.”

Oh, I never put up a link to the roundtable interview I took part in. Now I have.

Again, I like that Junger found it important to point out -

We shot 150 hours of footage. It's ninety minutes long. So there were things that happened out there that aren't in the movie obviously. There were meetings with elders that were incredibly antagonistic. There were meetings with elders where everyone was laughing—at least by appearances it looked quite friendly. A lot of things happened out there that were not in the movie. So I caution you about making the movie a complete microcosm of the fifteen months out there.

Essentially, this film is a hard-to-watch valuable learning experience for anyone, not matter what your politics are. Of course, you can apply your own politics to interpret what is happening, but none of the soldiers being interviewed during or after the deployment are very interested in making any political points. Remember, this is a "small picture" sort of film because it offers a different learning experience than a "big picture" film would.

This 2010 Sundance Documentary Winner reports in 93 minutes why the cries "unwinnable" indeed have merit. We see decent, good, scared young men, bleeding and fighting for what their country has told them is right. The country has since abandoned the region, pulling out after scrambling men there for years and leaving assorted dead Americans in its wake. We might at some point be inclined to ask, "What for?"

Um ... many of us, including guys like my brother who spent a year over there, have a pretty good idea "what for." My brother came back with a lot of frustration at the incompetence of the military brass in bad decision making, allowing politics to affect their decision making, and just how incompetent some of the American troops are at communicating and interacting with the local people. I experienced the same thing. The guys in Generation Kill experienced the same thing. And the guys in Restrepo seemed to have the same trouble. But incompetence is a regular part of any war, and the fact that some of the military does things badly obviously does not mean that the war is unwinnable or not worth fighting. It doesn't mean there isn't a good reason for fighting. The point of Restrepo is not a "Why We Fight" Frank Capra documentary, it's a look at the experience of war and the viewpoints of the grunts on film made by a guy, Jungar, who has indicated he believes the war is winnable.

I haven't been following the coverage very closely, mind, because I've been hoping to see the film first (it hasn't opened here yet), but reactions like these seem to be at least a little at odds with what we've seen at A&F so far.

Wells doesn't like that Restrepo doesn't take a political stance against the war. Other conservatives don't like that it didn't take a political stance for the war. It might have been interesting if it had done one or the other, but that doesn't mean the story it tells still isn't worth telling.

... then putting up that last sign at the end of the film that basically says "We gave up on the Korengal Valley" doesn't really help his own point. After all you watch, seeing that final note makes your stomach turn.

Well, actually that last line "We gave up on the Korengal Valley" is sensationalizing things a bit on the part of the filmmakers. Giving up on one particular bit of geography in a war is a tactical/strategic decision, for good or bad, about deploying resources and maximizing your effectiveness. No, it does not mean all the guys who died there were fighting for nothing. Leaving one valley does not necessarily mean you've lost anymore than entering some new valley means you've won. And it's certainly quite different than the "we fucked it up" line at the very end of Charlie Wilson's War.

I'd also recommend Peter Robinson's five part interview with Jungar, the more I hear the guy talk, the more I like him.

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If anyone is interested in some more context for this film, as well as a view of the same events with Junger's own commentary, you should read his book that he wrote based on his time in Korengal.

It's a stunning and powerful book, honest about the excitement, horror and boredom of combat. It also pulls no punches about how useless the whole enterprise can seem in the face of senseless death. For example, when relating the story of Sergeant Salvatore Giunta's actions that lead to his being awarded the Medal of Honor, Junger describes that even in the wake of these heroic actions the men who were being pulled from hostile fire ended up dying anyway, as well as several other soliders elsewhere in the valley that same week. Junger describes it as "the kind of week that makes it seem like we're losing this war."

Junger's descriptions of the appeal of combat, the trouble that soldiers have transitioning from combat to garrison to civilian life, the kinds of personality traits that can make a great soldier in combat can make a terrible soldier back on the base and a person who can't seem to figure out how to make it in civillian life.

A great book. The best book about modern warfare that I've yet to read.

http://amzn.to/ewJZzc

Edited, the text posted 2x for some reason. -bt

Edited by Bobbin Threadbare

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This 2010 Sundance Documentary Winner reports in 93 minutes why the cries "unwinnable" indeed have merit. We see decent, good, scared young men, bleeding and fighting for what their country has told them is right. The country has since abandoned the region, pulling out after scrambling men there for years and leaving assorted dead Americans in its wake. We might at some point be inclined to ask, "What for?"

Um ... many of us, including guys like my brother who spent a year over there, have a pretty good idea "what for." My brother came back with a lot of frustration at the incompetence of the military brass in bad decision making, allowing politics to affect their decision making, and just how incompetent some of the American troops are at communicating and interacting with the local people. I experienced the same thing. The guys in Generation Kill experienced the same thing. And the guys in Restrepo seemed to have the same trouble. But incompetence is a regular part of any war, and the fact that some of the military does things badly obviously does not mean that the war is unwinnable or not worth fighting. It doesn't mean there isn't a good reason for fighting. The point of Restrepo is not a "Why We Fight" Frank Capra documentary, it's a look at the experience of war and the viewpoints of the grunts on film made by a guy, Jungar, who has indicated he believes the war is winnable.

Your paragraph here sets up that many, like you and your brother and other guys on the ground, understood the "what for?" I was asking, but the rest of the paragraph talks a lot about incompetence on the ground and soldiers dealing with local people. You've stated that you understood the "What For?" but you didn't back that statement up. I was asking a larger question than what was happening on the ground, the "meta" of the war if you will. It's a question I'm genuinely interested in, because I haven't understood for many years exactly why we send troops there. I know we've scaled back now, and I hope that's the right choice after a lot of wrong ones. But years of watching America do this have left the questions lingering in my mind.

I guess I feel that I was unaffected by all the troops sent there, and kind of wondered what it had to do with me as an American citizen. If anything, there are more pissed off Afghans now than there were before. I would think that all we've done is solidify any danger that only might have been there before.

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Your paragraph here sets up that many, like you and your brother and other guys on the ground, understood the "what for?" I was asking, but the rest of the paragraph talks a lot about incompetence on the ground and soldiers dealing with local people. You've stated that you understood the "What For?" but you didn't back that statement up.

Right. I was trying to explain part of the frustration that many of the guys have who come back from both Afghanistan and Iraq (a frustration evident in the Restrepo interviews). But, being frustrated doesn't mean you don't think we shouldn't be there. I wanted to try and not turn this into just another debate on the war thread, but since some are claiming Restrepo proves we shouldn't be in Afghanistan, I had to give something of an answer. We are in Afghanistan to ensure a stable enough constitutional government that will prevent the Taliban from re-taking control and harboring and supporting international terrorists like al-Qaeda. This includes other minor objectives, such as strengthening their military enough to continue the fight on their own (a fight that will continue in the Middle East as long as there is Islam), shutting down the opium industry in the country, ensuring free elections for the people, and ensuring that Afghanistan will be strong enough to not become a mere puppet of Pakistan (or be overrun by the radical Islamic insurgents crossing the Pakistan border).

Why did we even go there in the first place? I actually feel stupid answering this, because everyone, even the liberal Democrats supported our going there years ago. It seems so obvious to me. Afghanistan used to be the "good war" and Iraq was the place we weren't supposed to be. But public opinion changes quicky, and now that we're struggling in Afghanistan and doing well in Iraq, more people seem to be forgetting why we're there. We went there because we considered 9/11 a declaration of war by international terrorists. And the one international terrorist organization that caused 9/11 just so happened to be harbored and supported by the Taliban government of Afghanistan. Any single guy from Restrepo could tell you that.

I was asking a larger question than what was happening on the ground, the "meta" of the war if you will. It's a question I'm genuinely interested in, because I haven't understood for many years exactly why we send troops there. I know we've scaled back now, and I hope that's the right choice after a lot of wrong ones. But years of watching America do this have left the questions lingering in my mind. I guess I feel that I was unaffected by all the troops sent there, and kind of wondered what it had to do with me as an American citizen. If anything, there are more pissed off Afghans now than there were before. I would think that all we've done is solidify any danger that only might have been there before.

So we sent troops there to take out the Taliban government. Something that bombing their mountains just wouldn't do. Our strategy there now, ten years later, needs to be effective if we are ever going to be able to leave. And that is what we want - to leave. But even President Obama knows it would be irresponsible to leave right now. He took General Petraeus from Iraq and put him in Afghanistan on purpose. A certain amount of nation-building is going to have to take place. Obama, in 2009, railed that he refused to let the Pentagon force him into any "nation-building" in Afghanistan. But the Taliban still exists as rebels, and the question is can we leave a fully resourced counterinsurgency there to hold them off? The Pashtun elders in places like the Korengal valley are notoriously unwilling to commit to our support - this is because they only want to support the winner. But they aren't providing the majority of insurgents, the majority of the insurgents are coming from outside Afghanistan (and most of those who are native, are bribed into fighting us). You feel that you've been unaffected by all the troops sent there. Well, that was also our goal. Every single deployed soldier will tell you that he'd much rather fight terrorists from radical Islam in the Middle East, than see those terrorists around his wife & children, mother & father, brothers & sisters, and friends back home. The primary goal of the entire war is to stop another 9/11 from happening (and part of that means taking the fight to the enemy).

Honestly, most of the troops (many of whom are 17-19 year olds) are not capable of articulating these reasons like I am. (And again, that's normal, trying asking a Union private to articulate Lincoln's motivation for continued the American Civil War - and the issues were a hell of a lot clearer with that war.) But most of them also still understand that they are fighting for the "good guys" - and that all the shit they have to see and go through over there is for a reason - that particularly has to do with protecting their loved ones at home. This is partly what makes the film Restrepo so hard for me to watch. These guys are indistinguishable from my other friends. Every single one of them has volunteered. And every single of one of them would die to protect each other, and everyone back home. For the last 10 years, what remains of al-Qaeda has been much more preoccupied with these boys than with inside the borders of the United States.

And yes, the Taliban and al-Qaeda are smaller and weaker than they were 10 years ago, partly because of the chaos and heartbreak suffered by the men in Restrepo.

Edited by Persiflage

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