Women gone wild. The rise of the anti-hero. Reenchanting the world. Nostalgia for the recent past.
These are just a few of the themes peppering our television landscape. How do these narratives reflect who we are (or want to be)? Why are we longing for stories about these kinds of characters and situations at this particular moment? Where do religious themes and imagery figure into the latest crop of television storytelling?
Many of us have read Nick Kristof’s columns over the years. And, perhaps, like me, you’ve been moved by his words, shaken by his stories, struck dumb with melancholy and grief. But, inevitably, the “plight of the ‘distant stranger’” assumes its role in feeling the events happening over there.
The HBO documentary, Reporter, will challenge you to come closer, to care, to take action as he pursues uncovering the truths behind human rights violations and personal suffering. With Kristof leading the way, the viewer bears witness alongside his two traveling companions, a med student and a teacher, to the tricky trail the journalist walks when reporting in war-torn Congo.
The film portrays some of the ethical and moral dilemmas of being a reporter in a conflict zone. When Kristof encounters a 41-year-old woman of 60 pounds lying at the edge of a village about to die, he acts. When a warlord responsible for the raping and pillaging of thousands gives thanks to the Lord, he bows his head; when that same man, General Nkunda asks him to eat with him, he dines. Few of these decisions are made without some type of deliberation — a grimace, a pause, a controlled look. But, in the end, he always writes.
He perseveres and tries to understand the underlying aspects of the people involved. And, he asks the difficult questions that have gotten other journalists killed. I’m not trying to saint him, but I now better appreciate his work as he attempts to discover a fuller aspect of all the human beings involved. He continues to tell the difficult stories of a region that gets covered during catastrophic events, and then forgotten within a blink’s time of a celebrity foible or the next breaking news event.
I hope we can interview him for the show some day in the future and hear how he wrestles with these difficult choices — and how he continues on.
Ashamedly, I’ve begun to tune out news coverage of the Iraq War and the politics of the region. So many statistics are flashed on the screen every day that they become faceless data to me. Then, along comes a promotional e-mail from HBO for a documentary called Baghdad High, and I have to challenge my complacency and comfortability.
In the film, four Iraqi teenagers filmed and told their stories as they carry on in their daily lives — attending class, lip-syncing to Britney Spears, trying to make sense of the violence, and so on. In this short interview with Ivan O’Mahoney and Laura Winter, the producers, they bring back the humanity of living in a war zone.
What got me was a story O’Mahoney tells about an exchange between Ali, one of the boys in the film, and a newly enlisted soldier during a Q&A session at the Tribeca Film Festival:
"All the questions were more about whether Ali had a girlfriend rather than what his life was like. And then all of a sudden it got really serious. There were two big lines behind the microphone and one of the kids got up and said he had just signed up for the Marine Corps, and he would probably be in Iraq within three or four months. And he said, ‘I finally know what life is like behind those walls and what you guys are like, and it’s been really, really fantastic.’ And at that moment I could see Ali beam with of pride, thinking, ‘Well, at least I’ve been able to make the difference for one person.’"
Just as we need to understand the plight of the people living there, we also need to prepare the young soldiers who are about to embark on missions that will change their lives, and that we, as a society, will need to deal with upon their return. I look forward to watching this film and paying attention again.