Dashing war documentarian killed in Libya
By JOCELYN NOVECK AP National Writer
NEW YORK - In "Restrepo," his searing, Oscar-nominated documentary about a U.S. platoon in Afghanistan, Tim Hetherington achieved what every war filmmaker aspires to: bringing the viewer painfully close to the raw and terrible truths of battle.
On Wednesday, the director and veteran photojournalist came too close himself to a different war -- the chaotic, unpredictable conflict in Libya. Hetherington was killed while covering fighting between rebels and government forces in the western city of Misrata.
Also killed was Chris Hondros, a New York-based photographer for Getty Images.
The British-born Hetherington, 40, was remembered by colleagues and friends not only as a brave, dashing figure but also as a singular talent who constantly sought to expand the boundaries of his craft as he traveled the globe chronicling conflict.
"He was an artist," said Susan White, photography director of Vanity Fair magazine, where Hetherington had been a contributor since 2007. "He was a package deal. He had it all."
In his multifaceted career, Hetherington also used his photography for human rights work in places like Darfur. "Tim Hetherington was much more than a war reporter," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "He had an extraordinary talent for documenting, in compassionate and beautiful imagery, the human stories behind the headlines."
A haunting example of Hetherington's work was "Sleeping Soldiers," a 2009 video piece in which still images of soldiers sleeping in Afghanistan were superimposed with video images of battle: huge explosions, the chaos of troops in the field trying to figure out their next move, and, heartbreakingly, a soldier dissolving in tears after learning that his buddy had just died.
But he was best known for "Restrepo." He and Sebastian Junger, author of "The Perfect Storm," were co-directors of the 2010 documentary, which was nominated for an Oscar and won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.
"There is no way to express my devastation and sorrow at the death of my dear friend Tim Hetherington in Misrata, Libya," Junger said Wednesday. "Tim was one of the most courageous and principled journalists I have ever known. The good that he accomplished -- both with his camera and simply as a concerned person in some of the most devastated countries in the world -- cannot be measured."
"Restrepo" tells the story of the 2nd Platoon of Battle Company in the 173rd Airborne Combat Team on its deployment in Afghanistan in 2007 and 2008. The title refers to the platoon outpost, named after a popular soldier, Juan Restrepo, who was killed early in the fighting.
"We're at war," Hetherington said in an interview with the Associated Press before the Oscars. "We wanted to bring the war into people's living room[s] and put it into the movie theaters, and get people to connect with it."
A key characteristic of the film was that it did not attempt to judge or take a stand.
"It's not necessarily about moral outrage," Hetherington said. "It's about trying to understand that we're at war and try to understand the emotional terrain of what being at war means."
In another AP interview, at Sundance in 2010, Hetherington spoke of "a vast appetite for people to find out what the reality is that the soldiers go through."
"Soldiers don't come back and talk about their experiences to their families," he said. "Although we have lots and lots of news reports from Iraq and Afghanistan -- information about this and that -- we don't really get to see the experience of what the soldiers go through."
Bruce Davis, executive director of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, said the film world had lost "a courageous, remarkably talented filmmaker."
"No one who saw `Restrepo' had any doubts about the dangers that Tim Hetherington and his crew were subjecting themselves to in order to bring us that story," said Davis.
Hetherington was doing his own work when he was killed Wednesday in Misrata, the only rebel-held city in western Libya. His family said he was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade. "Tim was in Libya to continue his ongoing multimedia project to highlight humanitarian issues during time of war and conflict," the family said in a statement. "He will be forever missed."
Misrata had come under weeks of relentless shelling by government troops. Hetherington tweeted Tuesday: "In besieged Libyan city of Misrata. Indiscriminate shelling by Qaddafi forces. No sign of NATO."
Along with his work, Hetherington was remembered for personal qualities: His good looks and his charm.
Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter remembered him as "a rangy, charming workhorse of a photographer. Devilishly good-looking and impossibly brave, he was both a ladies' man and a man's man."
Carter noted that Hetherington had "a deft eye and unwavering dedication" to his craft and compared him to legendary war photographers Robert Capa and Larry Burrows.
White, the magazine's photo editor, said Hetherington was so dashing, "I felt sometimes like he was on assignment for Her Majesty's Secret Service -- just like James Bond. I could imagine him taking off a flak jacket to reveal a tuxedo, on the way to a cocktail party. There was a lightness to him, along with the seriousness."
The White House said it was saddened to learn of the death, and called on the Libyan and other governments to take steps to protect journalists. "Journalists across the globe risk their lives each day to keep us informed, demand accountability from world leaders and give a voice to those who would not otherwise be heard," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
Hetherington was born in Liverpool, England, and studied literature and photojournalism at Oxford University.
He won the World Press Photo of the Year award in 2007 for an image of an exhausted U.S. soldier resting after a firefight in Afghanistan. He released "Infidel," a book of photos capturing the lives of the 173rd Airborne Combat Team, in 2010.
His other credits included working as a cameraman on the documentaries "Liberia: An Uncivil War" and "The Devil Came on Horseback." He also produced pieces for ABC News' "Nightline."
Hetherington is survived by his mother, father, sister and brother, as well as three nieces and nephews.
Associated Press Writers Ben Hubbard in Misrata, Libya, and Derrik J. Lang and Ryan Pearson in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)