Marie Colvin once said that “journalism can make a difference, it’s not in vain.” This idea is a prerequisite for understanding why, in 2012, The Sunday Times war correspondent, and her cameraman Paul Conroy, decided to illegally enter Syria and smuggle themselves into Homs to cover the plight of 28,000 civilians, in the suburb of Baba Amr, caught up in constant bombardment from the Assad regime.
This harrowing tale, made into a 2018 documentary film by writer and director Chris Martin, is now on BBC iPlayer. What starts as a tribute to the life of Colvin, who, with French journalist Rémi Ochlik was killed in targeted shelling by the Syrian army, ends with a striking tale of slaughter, and a message to the essential role of journalists in shining a light on human stories in the darkest corners.
Central to the narrative is the professional relationship between the American journalist and Liverpudlian war photographer Conroy, whose memoir of the same name initiated this version. Their shared belief that “it was the very small people on the ground that suffered the most,” as Conroy puts it, formed a close bond that is palpable on screen, as the bereaved survivor recounts the events that led to his partners death.
He refuses to call the Syrian conflict war, just “slaughter,” he says, and towards the end of the film, as Conroy emerges from the storm drain that led them into the city, he tells of the words echoing in his ears. “Get out and tell the world.”
This documentary does just that. Through interviews, and breath-taking on-the-ground footage, the audience is taken through the gripping journey into Homs, and the journalism that led to The Sunday Times coverage of the widow’s basement and makeshift hospital. It then shows the pairs evacuation in response to intelligence of troops moving in, and their subsequent fatal return.
Other important voices are those of Syrian translator Wa’el, and former Sunday Times foreign editor Sean Ryan, who relates how Colvin was described by a previous cameraman as “scarier than the war they were covering.”
Nevertheless, she was renowned for going in further, and staying longer than others in her profession were prepared to do. The triumph, and pain of such action, is revealed as Colvin’s previous reporting helped to save a thousand refugees in East Timor, but also cost her an eye from a shrapnel injury in Sri Lanka.
It is fitting as last month a US court found the Syrian regime liable for the extrajudicial killing of journalists, in order to intimidate news-gathering and suppress dissent, a theatrical release of the story is now in cinemas as ‘A Private War’ starring Rosamund Pike.
As a review from a student publication this documentary is a must watch, it is a compelling tribute to the lives of journalists who lost theirs telling the stories of others.
In another expert industry opinion, journalist Artemis Giannakopoulou, aptly describes the film as “a story of journalists that inspire journalists to never give up on journalism. And a story for non-journalists that inspire them to become journalists.”