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Highlighting the risks of reporting from war zones

Blog
30 November 2012

Here are links to three films that clearly show the risks faced by freelance cameramen and women reporting from conflict zones.

Each of the films won top prizes at the Rory Peck Awards on 28th November, which is dedicated to the work of freelance cameramen and women.

The winner of the Rory Peck Awards for News, a young French/Algerian freelance film-maker called Mani, shot these astonishing scenes of fighting in Homs just as Free Syrian Army fighters were taking on President Assad’s forces. Broadcast on Channel 4 News, the footage of close street fighting in a besieged city is all the more remarkable when you consider that until recently Mani was a primary school teacher.

Meanwhile, the chaos of revolutionary war is perhaps nowhere better captured in this film by Spanish freelancers Alberto Arce and Ricardo Garcia Vilanova, who won the Rory Peck Award for Features for their Libyan film, Misrata, Victory or Death.

I spoke with Alberto Arce at the Awards, and he said the film was shot shortly after the death of Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros in Misrata last year, when most Western journalists had fled the area.  The reason he went to film in Misrata in such circumstances was a simple one. He had recently lost his job as reporter for a Spanish newspaper as a result of the recession. With a wife and baby daughter to support and few prospects at home, he thought to himself ‘Where is the most dangerous place, where there is no competition, where I will have a chance to sell my films.”

Arce and Villanova’s film is the story of an irregular unit of rebel fighters – office workers and shop assistants – on the front line. They are scenes that could have been shot in any war over the centuries, and Arce says they particularly brought to mind the circumstances that his grandfather – a Republican volunteer in the Spanish Civil War – must have fought in in the 1930s.

Meanwhile, Daniel Bogardo’s film, made with reporter Aiden Hartley, is notable for shedding light on a conflict that is woefully under-reported in the West. The winner of the Sony Impact Award, Terror in Sudan, made for Channel 4's Unreported World, provides direct evidence of Sudanese government attacks on civilians in the troubled Nuba region of the country. The clear impact of the conflict on children is especially upsetting in this film, and is a tribute to the Bogardo’s level-headedness in such extreme circumstances. The emotional challenge of filming the scene of an 11-year-old boy injured by an air attack was outweighed, says Bogardo, by the huge responsibility he felt to film it properly. “I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to tell the story, because not a lot of people manage to get there.” Bogardo says crimes against humanity are being committed in the Nuba mountains – but nobody in the international community seems to care. “At least films like these mean that people cannot say, ‘We did not know.”

Rory Peck Trust director Tina Carr believes that more unsupported freelancers than ever are travelling to war zones, particularly because broadcasters and news agencies have cut back on permanent staff.

“There are so many freelancers going instead of staff – and that’s when it gets really dangerous. Young freelancers have always been drawn to areas of conflict – it is in their nature. But many of them haven’t got a clue that they should be prepared and trained,” says Carr.

Advances in camera technology also mean that it is more possible than ever for young and inexperienced freelancers to shoot broadcast quality footage. It also means they can take more risks too, able to stay in the field for far longer without have to return to a base to file.

It’s perhaps unsurprising to learn, therefore, that the Rory Peck Trust has provided 127 charitable grants to freelancers and their families in crisis over the last 12 months – more than every before. The average grant is about £1,500 - but this can go a long way to help many of the international freelancers that the Trust supports.

So it's worth noting that the Trust has launched a modest fundraising exercise after this year's awards via JustGiving - http://www.justgiving.com/rorypeckawards/ - raising funding in addition to the Trust's contribution from donors such as Sony, the BBC, Al Jazeera, ITN, Reuters and Sky News.

"The ability of freelancers to produce breathtaking and engaging footage in the most challenging of circumstances is an inspiration to us all," says awards sponsor Sony Professional Europe's head of AV Media Olivier Bovis. "But we should also thank them for the incredible sacrifices they make to connect us with stories that help us better understand the nature of the world around us."



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