Review: ‘Bearing Witness’

Dynamic docu by Marijana Wotton and Oscar winner Barbara Kopple highlights five intrepid women journalists and their yearlong experiences in Iraq beginning in April 2003. The five journos are veterans of numerous global trouble spots, and their commitment resembles more a calling than a job.

Dynamic docu by Marijana Wotton and Oscar winner Barbara Kopple highlights five intrepid women journalists and their yearlong experiences in Iraq beginning in April 2003. The five journos are veterans of numerous global trouble spots, and their commitment resembles more a calling than a job. At a time when journalists are as likely to be targeted as protected (152 killed in the last four years) and news is increasingly diluted, these women’s dedication to reporting the horrors of war from the front lines is a validation of the Fourth Estate. “Witness” will air May 26 on A&E.

Docu bears witness to the reporters’ work and their private struggles and sacrifices, transforming them from storytellers to lead story.

Molly Bingham, a noted American photojournalist who was imprisoned by Saddam’s secret police in Abu Ghraib early in the war, revisits the prison, reliving the traumatic experience for herself as much as for the camera. She notes that the abuse she feared — but never experienced — at the hands of her captors, is being visited by American GIs on their Iraqi prisoners.

Mary Rogers, a CNN camerawoman, is psychologically scarred by the death of colleagues in Sierra Leone, where she narrowly escaped being shot herself — yet the experience has not made her shy away from combat action. Filmmakers follow her through escalating skirmishes in various parts of the country, capturing extraordinary footage that often fails to make it to air.

Marie Calvin wears her scars more visibly, in the form of an eye patch occasioned by a grenade in Sri Lanka. Calvin, a Sunday Times of London foreign affairs correspondent, whose stories stress the human cost of war, was at the forefront of the discovery of mass graves in Iraq. She is shown seeking clues to the locations of other burial sites, and interviewing survivors over their loved ones’ remains.

Janine DiGiovanni, a writer for the Times of London struggles to reconcile motherhood with the needs of her profession. As much a war junkie as the film’s other subjects, she flees the battlefield once Iraq becomes dangerous to her pregnancy. Israel’s excellent hospitals provide a transparent excuse for her to cover the bloody Palestinian conflict instead.

American journalist May Ying Welsh covered the U.S. invasion of Iraq from the trenches in Baghdad, then changed employers to become a producer-reporter for Al-Jazeera. First on the scene of a shootout at a GI checkpoint, she is shown attempting to obtain full disclosure. Working for better communication between Americans and Iraqis, she is viewed with suspicion and contempt by both sides.

Intercutting between the five women as they travel over, under, around and through battle-torn Iraq, Wotton and Kopple catch the adrenaline rush of danger, the deep need to communicate to an uninformed public and the interminable exhaustion of racing from one untenable, unthinkable situation to the next.

Tech credits are first-rate considering the conditions.

Bearing Witness

Production

An A&E Network presentation of an A&E Indies production. Produced by Marijana Wotton, Barbara Kopple. Executive producer, Nancy Dubuc. Co-executive producer, Maryam D'Abo. Supervising producer, Sian Evans. Directed by Barbara Kopple, Marijana Wotton.

Crew

Camera (color, DV), Richard Connors, Joan Churchill, Richard Parry; editor, Bob Eisenhardt; music, Joel Goodman; associate producer, David Cassidy. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (Special Screenings), April 30, 2005. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Molly Bingham, Marie Calvin, Janine DiGiovanni, Mary Rogers, May Ying Welsh.
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