Short Film Theater: Tim Hetherington’s ‘Diary’


Stacato shots, gasping breaths, sirens, honking, shouts, dangerous car rides, unintelligible voices in distress, chaos. Impressionist film collage and war poetry.

“Diary” begins with a barrier, a light silken curtain, that obscures vision. A fan whirs, perhaps to further obfuscate the sights and sounds of a world gone bad.

One interpretation is that these obstructions to the reality in war worn Liberia, Chad and Afghanistan represent a natural trick of the mind — sheltering a vulnerable consciousness with layers of distraction from a world of unimaginable inhumanity.

Then the filmy barrier disintegrates.

Frightened people scurry. Some are terrified at gunpoint. Young teenagers carry rifles with pop hero stickers on the stock. A city in the dead of night is silhouetted by multiple flashes of light. Juxtaposed to this is a little blond girl frolicking in an impressionistic vista of swaying grasses back home in native England.

The camera goes upside down, the world is askew, and then we are shown the poorest and most ignorant of the poor, marching in mud, wearing flip-flops, toting guns like toys.

Then a woman’s comforting, affectionate, normalizing tone on a voice message.

Tim Hetherington, the director, cinematographer and producer wrote that “‘Diary’ is a highly personal and experimental film that expresses the subjective experience of my work, and was made as an attempt to locate myself after ten years of reporting. It’s a kaleidoscope of images that link our western reality to the seemingly distant worlds we see in the media.”

Hetherington, filmmaker, director and photojournalist, was killed in the line of fire in Misrata, Libya, April 20, 2011. He was a British-American photojournalist first gaining significant international credit documenting the conflict in Liberia. In 2006 he was named to the UN National Security Council’s Liberia Sanctions Committee for Human Rights where he helped document abuses.

Hetherington was also acclaimed for his work with Sebastian Junger on “Restrepo,” which was one of the five finalists in this year’s Academy Awards. He was intelligent, he was dedicated, he was 40 and he took risks.

Hetherington has said that he made “Diary” in an attempt to deal with his own emotions and experiences as a photojournalist in areas of conflict. On screen a jumble of unsettling, bizarre cuts assault the viewer like the staccato gunfire in the background.

“Diary,” is an impressionistic art film. The beautiful, sane side of life, muffled and hazy, is elusive. The sharp images of inexplicably bizarre human behavior are dominant and focused. The beautiful side of life is more like an idealized dream.

Diary (2010) from Tim Hetherington on Vimeo.

This is what Tim Hetherington saw. What do you make of it?

The intelligent, uncanny, artistic beauty of “Diary,” like in his other films,“Sleeping Soldiers” and “Restrepo,” is that Hetherington does not proselytize. The viewers are left to interpret his presentation from our own perspective. So many interpretations may emerge. Like war (and life), perhaps there are no absolute answers to what it’s all about.

In “Diary” Hetherington is on the phone having great difficulty expressing in words what his work is all about. He tries to explain, saying, “War — catastrophe … make pictures to try to understand what is happening there. If you see from my pictures that there is no hope then…” and there is no further dialogue. He is communicating with all of us and leaving it up to us to come up with the answer.


    “The question is, how do we get people to engage with ideas of conflict? How do we get people to think about Afghanistan?” Aug. 23, 2010
    “My work is about trying to get us to understand that we are connected and trying to build bridges and understanding between people.” Aug. 27, 2010
    “I think the most important thing we present is an intimate portrayal of soldiers.” Sept. 30, 2010

Credits for “Diary”

Produced by Magali Charrier and Tim Hetherington
Directed by Tim Hetherington
Cinematography by Tim Hetherington
Editing and Sound Design by Magali Charrier
Created: 2010

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