May 27, 2014 10:55:40 AM
LOS ANGELES -- Sebastian Junger wants 84 minutes of moviegoers' time, especially civilian moviegoers.
In "Korengal," the filmmaker employs that amount of footage unused in his 2010 Afghanistan war documentary "Restrepo" to paint a psychological portrait of soldiers, not to re-chronicle the conflict cunningly captured in the Oscar-nominated original.
"I really thought of it as an inquiry," said Junger, a journalist and author. "'Restrepo' wasn't an inquiry. 'Korengal' is an inquiry into the experience of war and how it affects people. Civilians really need to understand the experience. We sent them out there in the first place, and now we have to bring them back. The more we understand about what they went through, the better."
Junger is optimistic that the new film will have as much of an impact as "Restrepo," which was co-directed by the late documentarian Tim Hetherington and told of the year the two spent embedded with a U.S. platoon in Afghanistan's dangerous Korengal Valley.
(Hetherington was killed by shrapnel from a mortar round while covering fighting in Libya in 2011.)
Junger financed "Korengal" with partners but turned to crowd-funding for distribution of the film, which opens in New York on May 30. He said revisiting the hundreds of hours of footage filmed in 2007 and 2008 with Hetherington was invigorating after working on the biographical HBO film, "Which Way Is the Front Line from Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington."
"I had made a whole film about Tim's life and his death, so I had sort of hacked my way through that emotionally already," said Junger. "There were some poignant moments looking at the footage he shot, but it also felt like I was breathing new life into the footage that he and I shot during that amazing year, so he was living on a little more."
With the influx of soldiers returning home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Junger hopes the film can act as a bridge to understanding between civilians and veterans. For instance, Junger said a former military spouse recently wrote to him and acknowledged she wouldn't have divorced her veteran husband had she first seen "Restrepo."
"The next big project, which will probably take longer and cost more money, is reintegrating almost 3 million combat veterans from the past two wars back into society," said Junger. "For me, 'Korengal' is the beginning of the process. It's about understanding who these people are coming home and how they've been affected by what they've been through."
Michael Cunningham, a member of the platoon chronicled in "Restrepo" and "Korengal," agreed. Whether it's watching his fellow bored-out-of-their-skulls soldiers play "Guitar Hero," thanks to a generator delivered to their mountainous outpost, or gleefully engaging in a violent firefight with insurgents, Cunningham believes audiences will learn from the film.
"I think people should go see this movie out of respect for themselves, not because of what I did or other soldiers are doing," said Cunningham. "Whether you like it or not, you're an American citizen, this is your country, so you might as well get the best understanding you can from something that I think aptly sums up the experience."
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