By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 28 May 2019)
Anyone who wants to know what it means to be a real journalist needs to watch ‘A Private War’. The US-UK co-production that came out in February directed by Matthew Heineman isn’t an easy film to see. But most Kenyan film-viewers are no long squeamish seeing blood, guts and body parts flying, especially if they’ve watched even a few minutes of ‘Game of Thrones’.
‘A Private War’ is based on the real-life story of the American war correspondent, Marie Colvin who became a living legend for her daring eye-witness coverage of the fiercest wars, revolutions and uprising of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
She covered war zones everywhere from Tripoli, Gaza, Eritrea and Chechnya to Basra, Cairo and Homs, Syria where she lost her life in 2012. But that was not before she was able to tell the world, both in print and by live video, what she had seen firsthand—starving women and children being bombed by the Republican Army of Bashir Al-Assad, even as he’d tried to claim only rebels were being hit in Homs.
Colvin’s portrayal by Rosemund Pike captures the charisma and reckless courage of the woman that fellow journalist have often written about. One can even see it in the documentary film that was released in 2017 which features her during her last days and wearing her trademark eye-patch.
The eye-patch was earned in 2001 in Sri Lanka where she was blasted while running across a front line trying to get back into government-controlled territory so she could continue giving authentic accounts of what was really going in at the front, particularly as it affected innocent civilians.
Hit by shrapnel during a bomb blast, she lost her sight in her left eye, a scene powerfully conveyed in the film which doesn’t shy away from revealing the pain and personal suffering she felt in spite of her doing when she felt compelled to do.
Colvin was renowned for her courage, which she would joke might have been more about ‘bravado’ than bravery. But whatever the reasons for her choosing to go straight to the riskiest war zones in the world and remain longer than the rest of her media peers, she narrated news that made her a media celebrity, whether she wanted it or not.
She interviewed guerrilla leaders like the late Yasser Arafat and controversial heads of state like Col. Muammar Gaddafi. But just as easily did she listen to and speak for the widows and orphans whose plight would have been unknown if she hadn’t told their stories in print.
One of the best lessons aspiring journalists can take away from a film like ‘A Private War’ is seeing how Colvin embodied the type of journalism that bears witness to realities on the ground, however violent or life-threatening. She paid the price at 54 years old. But outside the film, the media recently reported that a US District Court Judge just found the Syrian government liable for her death to the tune of USD302 million.