The Story – and the Soldiers – Behind Restrepo

We know that many of you experienced the documentary Restrepo at AFI SilverDocs and other special screenings.  Having already won the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival this year, in addition to a host of other accolades, the film is continuing to open at more theaters across the country and we’re proud to help spread the word.   You can visit the official Facebook page for an updated theater schedule.

Today, we present an inside look into the work of the filmmakers, Sebastian Junger & Tim Hetherington, who traveled to the Korengal Valley to chronicle the deployment of the men of Battle Company, 2nd of the 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.  Hetherington – a contributing photographer at Vanity Fair – wrote this guest blog just for the USO, and he offers insight into the creative process, and how the film continues to touch both the audiences and filmmakers alike…

A few months ago, I received a phone call from Santana ‘Rudy’ Rueda, one of the soldiers from Second Platoon, Battle Company, 173rd Airborne. I was supposed to join him at a film festival in Missouri for a screening of the film Restrepo, but had not been able to make it there because of a snowstorm in New York. He sounded a little out of breath and stunned,

“Tim, man, you’re not going to believe this.”

“Why? What’s going on Rudy?”

“I – I’m standing across the street from the movie theatre, and they’ve got the name Restrepo in massive letters above it on the sign board. I can’t believe it.”

“That’s good huh?” I asked.

“Yeah – but I just never thought that I’d see my dead friend’s name written so large”, he replied.

From 2007-8, author Sebastian Junger and I followed a platoon of soldiers in the remote Korengal Valley. We wanted to make the most immersive and experiential war film we could. We felt that many in the US had no idea how soldiers actually live and fight, and our desire was to bridge that gap – to reconnect people in the country with what soldiers are doing out in places like Afghanistan. We purposely did not interview generals or politicians (the soldiers we were with didn’t) and avoided any voiceover commentary – we just wanted to show what the GI experience is like. We felt that the public needs to see, digest, understand and honor this regardless of political beliefs. We called the film Restrepo – named after the platoon medic who was killed early on in the deployment and the outpost that the men built and named in his honor. But we also felt that the name Restrepo signified the idea of every soldier and the loss that every soldier endures.

Since we have started showing the film across the country, we’ve had incredible responses. I’ve had wives come and tell me how the film has helped them understand what their husband go through and Vietnam veterans who say it spoke of their experience too. It also feels like the country wants to talk about the war in a way that is not divided along the usual partisan lines, and that people want to connect with those who fight on our behalf. Last week I traveled to Albany for a screening of Restrepo. Following a packed screening, the audience stayed on to listen to a Q+A with Brendan O’Bryne (one of the soldiers from Second Platoon), Troy Steward (a National Guardsman who now runs the military blog Bouhammer.com) and myself. What actually took place was something quite remarkable that more resembled a town hall meeting as people began to voice their thoughts about the war and the effects on soldiers. At one point Brendan declared,

“I learnt how to strip an M-4 in twenty seconds, and I can put one back together again in the same time. But I never learnt how to deal with seeing my friends killed. No one prepared me for that.”

At the end of the evening, people stayed on to talk to Brendan and Troy, each sharing experiences and insights. At one point I turned around to see Brendan hugging a woman who had lost her son in Iraq, and I thought to myself, if we can replicate what happened here tonight across the entire country – well, wouldn’t that be something.

*****

We want to extend a huge thank you to everyone involved with Restrepo and especially Tim Hetherington, for writing this blog.  And if you’re in the DC area tomorrow, you’re invited to come out to E Street Cinema for a Q&A with Sebastian Junger after the 3:00p show.  Hope to see you there!

RESTREPO to Screen at AFI SilverDocs this Weekend

'Restrepo' film directors Sebastian Junger (left) and Tim Hetherington (right) at the Restrepo outpost in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan. Junger and Hetherington jointly directed, filmed and produced the movie 'Restrepo' from June 2007 to January 2010. Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, Kunar Province. 2007. (Photograph © Tim Hetherington)

In the DC area this weekend?  Then we hope you’ll check out RESTREPO, a film from Vanity Fair correspondents Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington being shown at AFI’s SilverDocs festival this Friday at 5:00pm and Sunday at 7:00pm.  Junger will be joined by Major Daniel Kearney at Friday’s screening; on Sunday Major Kearney will be joined by Sgt. Misha Pemble-Belkin.  Click here to purchase tickets!

RESTREPO is a feature-length documentary that chronicles the deployment of a platoon of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. The movie focuses on a remote 15-man outpost, “Restrepo,” named after a platoon medic who was killed in action. It was considered one of the most dangerous postings in the U.S. military. This is an entirely experiential film: the cameras never leave the valley; there are no interviews with generals or diplomats. The only goal 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.

The directors have this to say about their experience: “The war in Afghanistan has become highly politicized, but soldiers rarely take part in that discussion. Our intention was to capture the experience of combat, boredom and fear through the eyes of the soldiers themselves. Their lives were our lives: we did not sit down with their families, we did not interview Afghans, we did not explore geopolitical debates. Soldiers are living and fighting and dying at remote outposts in Afghanistan in conditions that few Americans back home can imagine. Their experiences are important to understand, regardless of one’s political beliefs. Beliefs can be a way to avoid looking at reality. This is reality.”

Please join us at SilverDocs on Friday or Sunday and keep an eye on this blog for upcoming news on this powerful documentary!