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Summary of Film
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Photojournalist Background

Summary of Film

Twenty-three-year-old Amy Eldon is haunted by the memory of her older brother Dan, who was killed in Mogadishu, Somalia after the bombing of a house where it was believed that General Farah Aidid was hiding. She cannot understand why he chose an occupation that has averaged one death per week for the last ten years. In her quest for understanding, Amy interviews 10 photojournalists and war correspondents to ask the questions she can no longer ask her brother.

In London, home to many of the world’s photojournalists and war correspondents, Amy interviews photographers Des Wright and Carlos Mavroleon, who offer her insights and realities behind popular misconceptions. When Amy comments that we don’t hear much about Somalia now that the Marines are not there, Mavroleon responds by saying, "It wasn’t because the Marines were there [that you knew what was happening]; it was because we were there." Wright dispels the myth of the "cowboy" photographer, telling Amy that most journalists in war zones are very careful not to take unnecessary risks. Mavroleon says that it often makes him feel like a vulture to photograph suffering victims, but there is the need to tell the story to the world and to try to make a difference.

Martin Bell, a distinguished BBC correspondent through 11 wars, discusses his "journalism of attachment." One day when sitting on a hill overlooking Sarajevo with some UN observers, Bell concludes that journalists’ work in Bosnia was futile: "They’re watching the explosions, I’m counting the explosions, and it’s made no difference at all."

In contrast, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour is proud of the work she and others did in Bosnia. She believes they did their job — they told the story — with the result that "in two weeks, the allieds stopped the war." Amanpour also disagrees with Bell’s journalism of attachment and finds it sometimes appropriate to be detached. She deals with her horror at the events by "putting that energy into telling the story." British photographer Don McCullin was not able to do that, and he feels both physically and emotionally wounded by the wars he covered. He disputes the notion of detachment, saying, "There’s no way you can hide behind the camera because … when you’re looking through the camera you feel even closer to the person you’re photographing…."

Other journalists interviewed include:

  • David Guttenfelder, who was "introduced" to Dan Eldon when working for a small paper in Iowa. When photographing a new museum curator, he noticed two of Dan’s journals, "covered with mud, and they had a belt wrapped around them and duct tape, and, and feathers were sticking out of them, and I think a snakeskin, and wire…";
  • Jacqueline Arzt Larma, whose observations of the heaps of bodies in Gomah and the senseless deaths of Bosnian teens and toddlers shocked and affected her. She calls on her professional training as a photographer to help her through the horror of the scenes she witnesses, and she hopes to bring the images to the public in order for these senseless deaths to "be of consequence";
  • Peter Magubane, a distinguished black South African photographer who has been imprisoned and tortured in his own homeland for showing the atrocities of apartheid;
  • Corinne Dufka, who remembers Dan as a real humanitarian: "he was drawn to people who are suffering, to — to also want to — to help the Somalis";
  • Jonathan Clayton, former Reuters Bureau Chief of East Africa and Eldon’s former boss, who saw Dan as a promising and careful young photographer. Clayton also remembers the irony of Dan’s last mission into Mogadishu: "He said yes, but wanted it to be the last time";
  • Mohamed Shafi, the only reporter to survive from Dan’s truck the day that Eldon was killed.

Shafi, a cameraman since 1982, wanted to go to Africa to help the innocent victims trapped in the war. He believed the world needed to see their suffering. Shafi returns with Amy to Mogadishu to show her where he died and to tell her the whole story. Ironically, Dan was packed and ready to leave the city — his replacement had arrived — when they received word of the nearby bombing. A convoy of journalists went to see and report, with the Reuters car in the lead. Upon arrival, Shafi and Dan left the vehicle and went to investigate. When someone threw a stone, Dan called to Shafi, "Let’s get out of here." Shafi was attacked and beaten, but he managed to get away. The other four journalists from their vehicle, including Dan and his replacement, were stoned to death.

Dying to Tell the Story is filled with film clips and quotes of Dan at work in Africa. His love of his work and the people of Somalia are evident throughout the documentary. Through her journey, Amy finds peace in a better understanding of the importance of her brother’s work. She concludes, "I believe more than ever that what we do matters."

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