I can’t wait to see Hell and Back Again, the film by our friend Danfung Dennis. Not because it won the World Cinema Jury Prize Documentary at Sundance 2011 but because it looks truly extraordinary
It also won Sundance’s World Cinema Cinematography Award. I’m not surprised. Filmed entirely with a Canon 5D Mark II DSLR, the image quality is exquisite. A stark contrast against the bloody drama and grittiness of the content:
In 2009, US Marines launched a major helicopter assault on a Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan. Within hours of being dropped deep behind enemy lines, 25-year-old Sergeant Nathan Harris’s unit (US Marines Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment) is attacked from all sides. Cut off and surrounded, the Marines fight a ghostlike enemy and experience immense hostility from displaced villagers caught in the middle.
Embedded in Echo Company during the assault, photojournalist and filmmaker Danfung Dennis captures the frontline action with visceral immediacy. When Sergeant Harris returns home to North Carolina after a life-threatening injury in battle, the film evolves from stunning war reportage to the story of one man’s personal apocalypse. With the love and support of his wife, Ashley, Harris struggles to overcome the difficulties of transitioning back to civilian life.
In immense physical pain, Sergeant Harris grows addicted to his medication. His agony deepens as he attempts to reconcile the gulf between his experience of war and the terrifying normalcy of life at home. The two realities seamlessly intertwine to communicate both the extraordinary drama of war and, for a generation of soldiers, the no less difficult experience of returning home.