Movies

Biopic of slain reporter Marie Colvin as journalism comes under attack

A Private War hits screens here on Thursday

A biopic of war correspondent Marie Colvin, who died in Syria in 2012, is a celebration of journalism as it increasingly comes "under attack", according to its film-makers.

A Private War, which opens here on Jan 31, chronicles the harrowing career of Colvin (played by English actress Rosamund Pike), who was an award-winning US journalist for Britain's The Sunday Times.

The feature film debut of director Matthew Heineman - an Oscar nominee in 2016 for his documentary Cartel Land - shows the reporter's struggles to cope with the impact of reporting from conflict zones.

For Heineman, whose mother was a journalist, it is a "homage" to both Colvin and an increasingly besieged profession.

"It is so important right now in this world of fake news and sound bites, where journalists are under attack, to celebrate journalism and to celebrate people like Marie," he said at a London Film Festival screening last October.

A Private War hits screens as reporters face ever more threats, such as the killing of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Irish actor Jamie Dornan, who plays freelance photographer and long-time Colvin colleague Paul Conroy, said the work felt "timely".

"This is a film about telling the truth," he said. "Anything that can try to show true journalism in its finest light - the people who will go to these places to risk everything to tell us the truth - that is a good thing."

Colvin died aged at 56, alongside French photographer Remi Ochlik, in an alleged government bombardment of a media centre in the war-ravaged Syrian city of Homs.

A Private War, adapted from a Vanity Fair article following her death, depicts her decades-spanning career and the psychological and physical toll it took on her. It also captures Colvin losing the sight of one eye - leading to her wearing a signature eyepatch - while covering Sri Lanka's civil war, and interviewing former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi shortly before his death in 2011.

The film also shows her retreating into heavy drinking and battling likely post-traumatic stress disorder in between assignments.

Oscar-nominated Pike said she was attracted to the part by Colvin's complexity.

"I wanted to put a woman out there on the screen who is admirable, but not every quality she has is admirable.

"There was something about... the fierceness of passion in what she did that I related to," she said.

Heineman said he spent months researching the story, including watching practically every war film ever made. He also enlisted locals rather than actors to play the parts of extras in the war zones portrayed.

"Those are real Syrian women shedding real tears and telling real stories," he explained of scenes showing Colvin interviewing civilians in Syria.

"That was really important to me to try to bring an authenticity to this experience."

The director said making City Of Ghosts, a 2017 documentary about a Syrian media activist group in Raqqa and other conflict-driven documentaries helped him empathise with Colvin.

"I just felt enormous kinship with her and also her desire to put a human face to poor innocent civilians who are caught in the crossfire of these geopolitical conflicts," he added. - AFP

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