Our view of war correspondents is the swashbuckler with a notebook, a cool objective eye though a camera lens, addicted to the adrenalin of near-death and sex in exotic countries—and of course, always male. Bearing Witness, the newest film by Barbara Koppel, documents the first year of the war in Iraq through the eyes of five women war correspondents,
Koppel is best known for her first documentary (about a miner’s strike) Harlan County USA, which won the 1977 Oscar. Your first question
might be, do women approach a war zone differently from men? Certainly, no less physical bravery is demanded of these female writers, photographers, and filmmakers than their male colleagues. With co-director Marijana Wotton, Koppel rips away the initial self-congratulation of American victory and suggests that women never lose sight of the harrowing costs of war paid by ordinary, civillians—whose stories these women are driven to tell.
From the fall of Baghdad to the assault on Falluja, the bombing of the
United Nations’ Iraq HQ to Abu Graibe prison, and the emergence of the
Iraqi resistance, these five women’s experience of reporting war takes
us past the too-often-sanitzed accounts that characterize the news
Americans are allowed to see. On one level, this film meditates on the
highest aims of what journalism is supposed to be.
CNN camera-woman Mary Rogers says, “This is a calling—like being a
doctor or a cop. It’s life-consuming.”
TV news producer, May Ying Welsh works for Al-Jazeera and struggles with rejection from fellow Americans, who see her as a “traitor,” and from some Muslim colleagues, since she’s “not a believer.”
Freelance photographer Molly Bingham was arrested and spent a week in
Abu Ghraib prison at the war’s start. Her return, with two Iraqi women
formerly incarcerated there, is a moving testament to spiritual endurance.
London Times writer, Marie Colvin says, “I want to do a rough draft of history.” She underscores that, for her. covering war isn’t about the
latest tank—it’s about people. Colvin has her own war wounds, having lost an eye to shrapnel in Sri Lanka’s civil war.
Colvin’s fellow writer at the Times, Janine DiGiovanni says, “Reporters have an obligation to bear witness.”
Besides Iraq, these women have gone to some of the most terrifying
places on earth, from civil wars in Africa to Chechnya, Yugoslavia in the
1990s and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Koppel also digs into these
women’s motivations, telling their personal journeys—and, yes, it is
harder for women doing this work—and perhaps, lonelier.
May Ying Welsh brings a bi-racial perspective to the Issue of balancing work and family life that all working women face. But these become intensified for women reporting war. Yet, two of the women’s stories include romantic love unexpectedly found under fire. There’s tragedy and triumph.
Finally,Bearing Witness makes clear the emotional toll that living in
war takes, which women may be more willing to reveal than most of their
male colleagues. These women embody courage that’s embedded in the
heart. No matter where you stand on the war in Iraq, Bearing Witness is profound testimony with irrefutable power.
Bearing Witness, $5, Tues. April 18, 7p.m, at Bryant-Lake Bowl, 810
West Lake St., Minneapolis. Part of City Pages film curator Rob
Nelson’s best of the Get Real! Festival.