They say a picture is worth a thousand words. More so now in our post social-media revolution world. An image taken in Myanmar can be seen by people sitting in Scotland within the same hour. Not only can they tell a story better than most writers, they can capture a fleeting moment, preserving its emotion and impact for the ages.
Despite this I’m still not allowed to do reviews in stick-figure format.
Photography, particularly photojournalism is as important today as it has ever been. The documentary Hondros: A Life in Frames (2017) follows the life and work of the late war photojournalist Chris Hondros. Even if you don’t know the name, you know the images he took. They have adorned the front pages of newspapers across the world. While covering the Libyan Civil War in 2011, Chris and filmmaker Tim Hetherington were killed by mortar fire as they reporting from the front lines.
In 2003, Chris was a photojournalist working for Getty Images, covering the Liberian Civil War. During the conflict he captured many images, most famously the jubilant militia man with the RPG launcher. Director Greg Campbell, Chris’s oldest and closest friend, takes us through the landmarks of Chris’s life and career with interviewers from friends, family and colleagues. With what seems like a front row seat to the important events of the last twenty years, Chris’s story goes from student newspaper reporter blagging his way into Bill Clinton’s Inauguration Ball to his work in Kosovo, Pakistan, Liberia, Iraq and his final days in Libya.
Throughout we hear the stories behind Chris’s most iconic photographs. Joseph Duo, the RPG militia man, and the gun battle fought on Monrovia Bridge by militia groups, including drugged out child soldiers as young as ten. His photographs from the Iraq war included the aftermath of the infamous accidental shooting of a family in Tal Afar by US troops; how those involved, both soldier and civilian, are still haunted by the memories of the conflict.
Campbell’s film is an ode to a lost friend. It is not just Chris Hondros the Photographer and his work; it’s Chris Hondros the Man and the impact he had on those around him. Compiled of interviews with those closest to Chris, as well as previous footage and interviews of him, Campbell has also tracked down some of the subjects of Chris’s images. We find out that Chris’s actions with them didn’t stop after his camera shutters clicked. Chris found Duo after the war in Liberia and, through helping him get an education, gave him a shot at a normal life. Anecdotal brevity is mixed with the hard hitting images, and captures Chris not as a journalist suffering from vultureism, profiting from peoples misery, but as a dedicated photojournalist who needs to record these events, to show the world what is happening. Chris’s work was predominantly focused on war and disaster; how it directly affected civilians across the world. While some might view it cold to take photos of children screaming over dead parents, without the images we would never understand the conditions of normal people throughout the world.
Campbell may have intended Hondros to only be a sault to his lost friend but it also shows the importance of journalism. Both written and photographic, it highlights the important stories happening and, far too often, being ignored throughout the world. Like All the Presidents Men (1976) it emphasises the power and responsibility journalism has to the world and is a valuable reminder of the strength in facts, in these the days of fake news allegations.
The only let down I have with Hondros is not in the content or production. It is in the knowledge that documentaries, particularly feature documentaries, are disposable. Once watched it becomes thrown on the pile with the rest of them.
Sad given the message. So make the time to watch this one.
Dir: Greg Campbell
Scr: Greg Campbell, Jenny Golden,
Cast: Chris Hondros, Greg Campbell, Todd Heisler, Tyler Hicks, Spencer Platt
Prd: Greg Campbell, Daniel Junge
DOP: Mike Shum
Music: Jeff Russo
Runtime: 95 minutes
Hondros: A Life in Frames is now screening at Bertha DocHouse