Under Fire: Journalists In Combat – A Brutally Accurate Documentary from Martyn Burke

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UNDER FIRE: JOURNALISTS IN COMBAT, a brutally accurate documentary from novelist and Director Martyn Burke, chronicles the aftermath of War Correspondents as they cope with psychological trauma sustained on the front lines. 

Produced by Dr. Anthony Feinstein, noted Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto, Mercury Media and JUF Picture Productions UNDER FIRE: JOURNALISTS IN COMBAT presents first person interviews with nine award winning war journalists combined with graphic war footage.

Feinstein has, for the past ten years, focused his ground-breaking research on the questions, “How are journalists affected emotionally by their work in war zones and what motivates them to pursue such dangerous occupations?” He has worked with every major news organization to assist their journalists cope with the long term affects associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and after tragedy re-entry.

UNDER FIRE details, through a series of interviews with those who have experienced conflict situations and lived to tell, the lengthy physical and psychological impact associated with their profession. The journalists, Susan Ormiston, CBC On-Air Correspondent, RTNDA and Genini Award Winner; Finbarr O’Reilly, Reuters Photo Journalist, World Press Photo Winner; Ian Stewart, former AP Bureau Chief in West Africa. Christina Lamb, The Sunday Times, UK / Multiple British Press Foreign Correspondent of the Year Award and author of Small Wars Permitting. Anthony Loyd, The Times, UK War Correspondent, author of My War Gone By, I Miss It So. John Steele, ITN, UK Combat Cinematographer, author of War Junkie; Jeremy Bowen, BBC Special On-Air Correspondent, BAFTA, and international Emmy Award winning journalist and author of War Stories; PAUL WATSON former LA Times and Current Toronto Star Journalist and Pulitzer Prize Winning author of Where War Lives: A Journey Into The Heart Of War and CHRIS HEDGES former NY Times Pulitzer Prize Winner and author of War Is The Force That Gives Us Meaning were referred to him through an independent program provided by global news organizations.

The intimacies they’ve shared relating to their psychological and physical recovery while “on the job” are extremely personal and intimate and rarely make the evenings news. Their stories, while all different, clearly possess a single common thread, that being they’ve all participated in reporting multiple conflicts from El Salvador, Bosnia, The Congo to Sarajevo, Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan.


Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is defined in UNDER FIRE as an anxiety disorder that can exhibit after a terrifying incident. Dr. Feinstein, throughout the documentary, matches the journalists’ statements against symptoms which define PTSD including persistent irritability and anger, impatience and emotional outbursts. Additional symptoms include denial, alienation, emotional detachment to those at home and the inability to maintain personal relationships. While not every subject exhibits all benchmarks the inability to maintain personal relationships is seen more in male subjects although the females exhibit a detachment to home and a habitual reaction to re-entry. 


Having been diagnosed with PTSD, the stories told by these seasoned war correspondents mirrored my own. These journalists accounts, aimless wandering through the streets of London, being disorientated and lost at Heathrow, detached from family knowing no one would understand, aligned with my experiences of wandering Manhattan hoping that someone would help me regain my pre-PTSD life, the irritability and anger, uncontrollable rage, was echoed by Ian Stewart of the Associated Press who described internally begging people to help him know who he was before the injury.

The journalists exhibit a battered spouse or abuse victim mentality or as they all describe war/conflict dependency. They call themselves war junkies and are addicted to the point of self destruction. As an educated, trained, experienced journalist, their devotion is understandable and supported and as one who also believes the world has to know, and yet, when it begins to strangle and squeeze one to death, it’s time to walk away.


They were fortunate in so much as they had employers who recognized the importance of seeking counseling and support; in my case every cry for help was met with a slammed door, a blanket refusal to assist in order to further aggravate PTSD behaviors to facilitate clear aggressive action or worse.


UNDER FIRE: JOURNALISTS IN COMBAT has a running time of 90 minutes and truthfully, even as a supporter of War Reporting and the journalistic efforts presented,  the documentary runs a little long. To hear journalists relate their injuries with deep vulnerability, openness and honesty to the point that others, outside particular communities, may label them with unfounded psychological terms determined from documentary snippets, is admirable, intriguing and highly interesting and still UNDER FIRE could have been edited slightly, and maintained the depth of the interviews.


The footage is similar to most war documentaries and includes graphic images of dead, decaying and bloated bodies, apparently unaffected journalists exchanging pleasantries as they film footage of massacres and iconic images of horrific brutalities that will trigger memory recall on sight.


UNDER FIRE: JOURNALISTS IN COMBAT is short-listed as a documentary feature for OSCAR consideration.


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UNDER FIRE: JOURNALIST IN COMBAT You Tube Sneak Peek: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D94Hd8MuPRE


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