The first in a four-part HBO series on combat photographers, “Witness: Libya” follows shutterbug Michael Christopher Brown in the post-Gaddafi chaos of the battle-scarred nation, retracing his steps during the height of the bloody civil war. Co-directed by Abdallah Omeish and David Frankham, the docu is a brash, ultra-American look at the way adrenaline mixes with tragedy in war reportage, pushed along by a driving rock score more suited to an action pic or a jam session. Unquestionably adapted to smallscreens, the “Witness” series will get VOD traction from exec producer Michael Mann’s involvement.
Looking like a college lacrosse captain, Brown covered Libya with Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, and was wounded in the same skirmish that killed his colleagues. His photographs reveal a striking eye for compositions even in extreme circumstances, privileging a humanity rising above the conflict. But his commentary is less articulate, and talking heads better explain the near anarchy following Gaddafi’s execution. Libya’s tragic past and current misery make a generic impact, while the short running time and ultra-quick editing hamper in-depth discussions; the ethnic cleansing in Tawergha cries out for more detailed consideration.