Under Fire: Journalists in Combat

Under Fire: Journalists in Combat

Libya as seen in UNDER FIRE: JOURNALISTS IN COMBAT, a film by Martyn Burke and Dr. Anthony Feinstein. Photo credit: Finbarr O'Reilly. Picture courtesy JUF Pictures. All rights reserved.

Under Fire: Journalists in Combat

Executive Producer:
  • Laura Morton
Line Producer:
Photography Director:
  • Donald Purser
Combat Diary Footage:
Visual Research:
Production Company:
  • JUF Pictures

* Most external filmography links go to The Internet Movie Database.

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Under Fire: Journalists in Combat (2011)

Opened: 11/11/2011 Limited

Sunset 5/LA11/11/2011 - 11/17/20117 days
Quad Cinema/NYC12/02/2011 - 12/08/20117 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

Websites: Facebook

Genre: Documentary

Rated: Unrated


One of the 15 documentaries out of 124 on the short-list for 2011 Oscar® nomination!

Only two journalists were killed in World War I; this is a war that claimed the lives of over 19,000 soldiers in a single day and saw 16 million dead by its end. In World War II, 63 journalists were killed. In the last two decades almost a journalist a week has been killed, with the dead numbering in the thousands.

The conclusions are obvious. Journalism in times of war has become an increasingly lethal - and extremely traumatic -- endeavor, as journalists are now viewed as natural targets by combatants; subject to kidnapping, torture and even beheadings. With all these threats, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is on the rise among front line war correspondents.

With journalists facing these new realities, UNDER FIRE weaves together combat footage and first-hand accounts by the journalists who were there to reveal what they see, think and feel as they confront the physical danger and savagery of war.

Martyn Burke, documentary filmmaker and veteran of battlefields around the world, and Anthony Feinstein, the psychiatrist who treats journalists to heal the trauma, delve into the experiences of top-tier correspondents from AP, New York Times, BBC, and the LA Times, among others, to bring a unique understanding and insight into the psychological cost of covering war.

About the Film

In the first six years of the Iraq war over 120 journalists have been killed in a conflict that had seen a total of 4568 military deaths at that time. The International News Safety Institute now counts 1,397 news media dead in the ten years between 1996 and 2006 in 105 countries.

Adding to skyrocketing mortality rate is the threat of kidnapping and torture. Some end in murder, as with Daniel Pearl. Others end after a ransom is paid in the form of money or a prisoner swap, despite the denial of governments about this practice. In some cases the Western journalist is freed after a price is paid while the stringer/translator that had also been taken hostage is murdered. Along with physical threats is the emotional devastation that comes with being a witness to the brutality of combat. Jeremy Bowen reacting to the death. of his friend and driver.

It is not surprising that front line journalists are at increased risk for conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depression, anxiety disorders and substance abuse. These conditions can be incapacitating, affecting a journalist's ability to work and playing havoc with relationships.

Even for those who escape PTSD, few escape suffering from many its symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares and hyper-vigilance. Yet despite the grave risks, the emotional distress, the failed relationships and the psychic scars, there is no shortage of journalists lining up to go to war zones. What is it that drives so many of these men and women to continually risk so much?

The film weaves together portraits of journalists - some who have done well and some not so well -- and some who have survived physically but succumbed emotionally to what they went through. Using combat footage and featuring first-hand accounts by war journalists who were actually there we share what they see, think and feel as they confront daily the danger and brutality of war. Among the journalists participating are Chris Hedges, formerly of the New York Times, Jeremy Bowen of BBC, Christina Lamb of The Sunday Times, Great Britain, and Finbarr O'Reilly, Reuters, among others.

UNDER FIRE: Journalists in Combat explores the dangers and the effects of war -- both physically and psychically -- on those who report the news from the world's most dangerous places. It is a film that shows the lingering human price of bringing the news to the comfortable regions of the world, long after the battles are forgotten.

About the Journalists

Jon Steele (ITN, Great Britain)

"We didn't call it PTSD back then, we called it 'I need a drink,'"

Combat cinematographer and author of WAR JUNKIE

Anthony Loyd (The Sunday Times, UK)

"I sleep badly and I have a lot of bad dreams, and in my dreams there is often a lot of mutilation, lots of darkness and a lot of fear."

War correspondent and author of MY WAR GONE BY, I MISS IT SO

Christina Lamb (The Sunday Times, UK)

"It seemed really, really stupid to die in that field in Afghanistan."

Multiple British Press Foreign Correspondent of the Year awards, author of SMALL WARS PERMITTING

Paul Watson (Los Angeles Times, Toronto Star)

"In my mind I heard him say, "if you do this, I will own you forever...and I spoke back to him my mind and said, "'Please understand why I have to do this.'"

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, author of WHERE WAR LIVES: A JOURNEY INTO THE HEART OF WAR

Jeremy Bowen (BBC Special Correspondent)

"I know that had I not said "'let's stop here,'" he might be alive today. I think I have replayed it many times in my mind..."

BAFTA and International Emmy award winner and author of WAR STORIES.

Susan Ormiston (CBC correspondent)

"I would be dishonest to say that it isn't a tearing of the soul just prior to leaving..."

RTNDA and Gemini award winner

Ian Stewart (former AP Bureau Chief in West Africa)

"How do you get better from that? How do you make that go away?"

Survivor of gunshot wound to gunshot wound to the head in Sierra Leone

Chris Hedges (formerly New York Times)

"In the same way a drug physically breaks down an addict, I was being broken down by war."

Pulitzer Prize Winner and author of WAR IS THE FORCE THAT GIVES US MEANING

Finbarr O'Reilly (Reuter's photojournalist)

"You sort of resign yourself to the fact that you're probably going to get hurt and just hope that it isn't too badly when it happens."

Winner World Press Photo of the Year

Filmmaker Comments

Martyn Burke (Producer/Director/Writer)

After filming documentaries in battlefields where I witnessed first-hand the incredible toll that covering wars wrought on journalists I decided that it was not the kind of life I wanted to make permanent - unlike many of the journalists we profile in UNDER FIRE. As I was in Afghanistan making a film, my close friend and mentor "Craze" (who earned the nickname for his relentless and foolhardy war reporting for NBC and CBC) was dying. Back in the early 90's, no-one knew anything about the psychological cost of covering wars or PTSD so Craze was simply regarded as a hard-living, much-married, wild man who had nightmares and attention span problems. Now we would know better. It is one of the reasons I made UNDER FIRE.

When I met Dr. Anthony Feinstein who had studied, treated and written about those journalists who can't seem to break away from the wars they alternately love and loathe, we both saw an opportunity to bring our experiences, insights, and questions together to make UNDER FIRE: JOURNALISTS IN COMBAT.

Dr. Anthony Feinstein (Producer)

Working as a psychiatrist and behavioral scientist at the University of Toronto my interest in this trauma and war correspondents began when I was referred a patient who had lost the power of speech. I soon learned she had been working as a war correspondent and had recently returned from an assignment in which her cameraman had been killed. Intrigued, I turned my attention to the published literature on war, journalism and psychological distress. To my surprise, I found not one academic publication on the topic. I launched into researching and writing the fist study on war correspondents and the effects of trauma.

I have continued my work with front-line journalists with news organizations like CNN and ITN, and completed a study looking at the emotional health of journalists covering the current war in Iraq. One clear trend is the degree to which front line journalism has become more dangerous.. In a post 9/11 world, journalists are now in the cross hairs of insurgents and extremists and have become "high value" targets for assassination, kidnapping and intimidation. In Iraq, by far the most lethal conflict for journalists, close to 200 members of the press have been killed, a number that exceeds the mortality rate for journalists from World Wars I and II and the Vietnam war combined. In this climate of unprecedented danger to journalists, how they are managing emotionally has become an increasingly relevant question. This is the focus of our documentary, "Under Fire: Journalists in Combat" and a question that deserves close scrutiny. Looking beyond the dramatic content of the news and behind the glamorous persona of the foreign correspondent, it is apparent that for some journalists, the personal cost of bringing us the news is very high.

Filmmaker Biographies

Martyn Burke (Producer/Director/Writer)

Martyn Burke, novelist and director/writer of both documentaries and dramatic films, has traveled extensively from the Arctic Circle to the Amazon jungles to find himself in the middle of wars, revolutions and movies.

Martyn Burke's feature credits include co-writing with Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker, Paramount's cult comedy classic, TOP SECRET, writer of HBO'S timely and biting political satire, THE SECOND CIVIL WAR, writer of HBO'S biopic about legendary Chicago mafia don, Sam Giancana (starring John Turturro), and writer/director of the hit TNT film PIRATES OF SILICON VALLEY which was nominated for five Emmys including Best Screenplay and Best Picture, the Producers Guild Award for Best Film, Directors Guild Award for Best Directing and the Writers Guild Award for Best Screenplay.

He is currently developing the HBO series, REDS based on experiences out of his early days of filmmaking when he took a camera crew all over America, only later discovering that the sound technician was a KGB colonel running a major espionage ring.

His extensive credits as a documentary filmmaker include the recent and controversial PBS documentary ISLAM VS. ISLAMISTS: Voices from the Muslim Center, a film shot in Europe and North America revealing the dangers Muslim moderates face by standing up to radical extremists who are working to co-opt their religion; CONNECTIONS, the blockbuster expose on the Italian mafia in North America, and WITNESSES, the powerful, award winning, behind-the-lines film on the last days of the Soviet War in Afghanistan.

Other documentary subjects have ranged from the street gangs in Los Angeles, to the domestic travails of lower income families and life on the road with a huge carnival traveling across the America.

His novels; LAUGHING WAR; THE COMMISSAR'S REPORT, IVORY JOE; TIARA; THE SHELLING OF BEVERLY HILLS and THE TRUTH ABOUT THE NIGHT are often inspired by the places, situations and characters he has experienced through his camera lens.

Dr. Anthony Feinstein (Producer)

Dr. Feinstein received his medical degree in South Africa. Thereafter he completed his training in Psychiatry at the Royal Free Hospital in London, England, before training as a neuro-psychiatrist at the Institute of Neurology, Queen Square in London. His Master of Philosophy and Ph.D. Degree were obtained through the University of London, England. He is currently a Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto.

His neuropsychiatry research has focused on behavioral disorders associated with multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, and hysteria (Conversion Disorders), while always continuing his ground-breaking research into the questions, "How are journalists affected emotionally by their work in war zones and what motivates them to pursue such dangerous occupations?"

In 2000-2001 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to study mental health issues in post-apartheid Namibia. This led to the development of that country's first rating scale for mental illness. He is currently engaged on a similar project in Botswana.

Dr. Feinstein is the author of Dangerous Lives: War and the Men and Women Who Report It (Thomas Allen, Toronto 2003), The Clinical Neuropsychiatry of Multiple Sclerosis (Cambridge University Press 1999, with a second edition in 2007), In Conflict (New Namibia Books, 1998), an autobiographical account of his time as a medical officer in the Angolan and Namibian wars, Michael Rabin, America's Virtuoso Violinist (Amadeus Press, 2005) and Journalists Under Fire: the Psychological Hazards of Covering War (John Hopkins University Press). His most recent book is Battle Scarred: the Hidden costs of the Border War (Tafelberg, 2011) He has published widely in peer-reviewed journals and has authored many book chapters.