Restrepo follows a US platoon into the Korengal Valley - a location considered to be one of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan. Over the course of 15 months filmmakers, Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger (author of The Perfect Storm), lived with the unit and shadowed their every move. As a result, Restrepo features some truly extraordinary footage.
The soldiers are ordered to protect the Korengal Valley from a barrage of attacks that occur every day. They manage to move further into ‘enemy’ territory and establish a new outpost. They call this outpost Restrepo after a popular member of their platoon (Juan ‘Doc’ Restrepo) who was killed at the beginning of their time in the Korengal.
Restrepo isn’t concerned with the rights or wrongs of the Afghanistan war. On the cover of my DVD of the film, Hetherington and Junger explain that their “intention was to capture the experience of combat, boredom and fear through the eyes of the soldiers themselves... Their experiences are important to understand, regardless of one’s political beliefs”.
Theirs is a truly incredible film. It is tough, tense and upsetting. However, it also feels so important to watch. It leaves you shaken and heartbroken for all of the people involved. For Restrepo is most interested in humans and how they experience war. Each soldier comes across as a person - scared and brave, professional and frustrated, desperate and hopeful.
When these soldiers suffer loss they are told to mourn for a short time and then move on. They are encouraged to use the anger that they feel following the deaths of their colleagues to fight back. They experience an incredible high when they do, but it makes you wonder about the impact this will have on them when they return home.
Restrepo is a film that attacks your senses. You feel the danger and the dust of the valley and you also see how beautiful the location can be when the fighting stops. The sound during the gun battles is breathtaking. The sound is real, the fighting is real - the loss is all too real.
Hetherington and Junger’s film has been described as being as close as it gets to seeing what life as a soldier is really like. It certainly feels distressingly authentic. Of course, however, I don’t know if that claim is true... and I am just so thankful for that.
Restrepo has left a powerful legacy. It has helped many people to understand the realities of the war in Afghanistan from a soldier’s point of view.
Tragically, Tim Hetherington was killed in April 2011 during the siege of Misrata by Colonel Gaddafi’s forces. He was hit by shrapnel, which cut his femoral artery, and he bled out and died in the back of a truck en route to hospital.
Sebastian Junger believes that his death could have been prevented had the journalists and rebels known what to do to prolong his life. As a result, Junger has created a medical programme for freelance journalists. For more information visit: http://www.risctraining.org/
World-Changing Doc Recommendations
Restrepo is part of the documentaries that change the world sub-genre of Documentary 7.
If you enjoyed this movie, I would also recommend:
I would also like to include the following honourable mentions: Dear Zachary, Food Inc., An Inconvenient Truth and Bowling For Columbine.
Do you have any filmmaking documentaries that you would like to recommend? If so, do let us know in the comments section below or over on Twitter. You can find me @500DaysOfFilm.