Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Picture of "The Bang Bang Club"

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A Picture of "The Bang Bang Club"

(from 5/5/11)

The Bang Bang Club, which opened theatrically in Manhattan while it was still being screened at the recent Tribeca Film Festival, is based on the nonfiction book (subtitled Snapshots from a Hidden War) by Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva. The debut narrative feature by documentarian Steven Silver tells the story of four photojournalists who risked their lives taking pictures of the civil conflict that took place in post-Apartheid South Africa in the early '90s, prior to the first free elections. The "Bang Bang Club" consisted of Marinovich (Ryan Phillippe), Silva (Neels Van Jaarsveld), and the ill-fated Kevin Carter (Taylor Kitsch of TVs Friday Night Lights) and Ken Oosterbroeck (Frank Rautenberg); and their newspaper photo editor was Robin Comley (Malin Ackerman). Both Marinovich and Carter won Pulitzers. I requested a one-on-one with Ackerman, agreed to participate in a roundtable, and found myself at the below press conference. Because there were so much press, I got in only a few questions, which I note, but the interesting participants--Silver, followed by rising stars Kitsch and Ackerman; followed by Phillippe and Marinovich--made the experience worthwhile.
Q&A with Steven Silver
Q: Please weigh in on the recent events that happened in Libya with the photojournalists being killed.  Steven Silver: It's just enormously tragic. I'm no expert on how journalists can take themselves into warzones, but it just seems that more and more often a feature of these kinds of conflicts is journalists being caught in the line of fire. I just think we need to remain loud and noisy about the fact that journalists should have a privileged and protected status in warzones.
Q: It's ironic that your movie is coming at exactly the time of the story in Libya.
SS: Yes, but the way things are right now in the world, if we released it in a month or in six months, tragically there is just as much chance that this kind of event would happen.
Q: What is your history and your family's history with the apartheid issue?
SS: I come from a South African Jewish community; my grandparents would have come from Russia, Poland, and there's a large Jewish immigrant population of that generation. So my family background, I suppose, would be sort of liberal, Jewish upbringing. Like many of us young white people who joined the anti-apartheid movement, that's what I got caught up in. I worked for a period of time for an organization called New Steps, which was a student generation. I was its president in 1990 and 1991, and I worked for ANC for a couple of years after that, before I started to make films.
Q: What was it that fascinated you about the story of these photographers in South Africa?
SS: I'm South African, and back when I was a student activist, I lived through a number of the events that were described in the book. So I had a somewhat personal connection to the story. Making the film was a chance for me to revisit that time in my life, without doing something autobiographical. Thematically it's of interest to me as a filmmaker making my first documentary filmmaker-- I've had an abiding interest in people caught in situations like the one the Bang Bang Club found themselves in. I think there's a particular price one pays for documenting atrocities and horror. It's a close cousin to the post-traumatic stress that soldiers have coming back from a warzone. There's something about being required to sit passively and document horror--rather than being able to pick up and join the fight--that adds a dimension to how a person bearing witness is effected. The cost of bearing witness is something that I've explored in other films I've made. I made a film about Romeo Dallaire, an Air Force Commander who attempted suicide a number of times after witnessing the genocide in Rwanda. So Kevin Carter's story was interesting to me. I was a little bit younger than they were, but I could relate to the fact that they made the choice to put themselves in harm's way and that they did a lot of great work but also paid the price.
Q: Why did you decide this was going to be a fiction film as opposed to a documentary?
SS: Partly because Kevin Carter was dead, and I wanted to capture what happened and the impact that their work had on their lives, I need to capture that work. So in order to see the effect of taking those kinds of photographs I needed to generate the conflict and the warzone and the horror that they were documenting. That would have been very difficult to do in a documentary.
Q: Can you talk about the casting process for this movie? I'd think that in order to get certain financing, you had to have Hollywood names attached so you cast three Americans?
SS: Actually, there's one American and two Canadians. Financing 101. It's a Canadian-South African co-production, under the Canadian-South African co-production treaty, I was allowed to cast only Canadians and South Africans, with one exception--one American. To put my financing together, I had to find within that mix enough Canadians to satisfy the Canadian investors, enough South Africans to satisfy the South African investors, and enough high-profile actors so that investors would put money into the film. So Malin Ackerman and Taylor Kitsch are Canadian and Ryan Philippe is the only American. Frank Rautenbach and Neels Van Jaarsveld are the South Africans. So that's how the cast was put together. I still needed to try to find people to be good in the roles and to get the accents right.
Q: Did you use people that lived through that time in the movie as extras?
SS: Yeah, one of the early choices I made with the film was to shoot exactly on the streets where these events took place. So 90% of the locations are exactly where they took place, literally down to the street corner. That meant that the people who are in those locations lived through those events not that long ago. So the extras in the film are not really extras but people from the neighborhood. This added, I think, a kind of authenticity to the action scenes, because people weren't acting but remembering events they'd lived through.
Q: How comfortable were you in terms of having the real-life people on set?
SS: It was great. They were there most days. I worked with them extensively. Invariably when you're recreating events, false notes that creep in. I was able in those moments to get Greg to come over to sort of huddle by the video system and say whether it seemed authentic or if the scene wasnt working. We often benefited from his input. So yeah, having him on set and involved with the script was invaluable.
Q: What are your feelings about the moral dilemma that Kevin Carter faced after taking the Pulitzer-prize winning photo of the starving Sudanese child being followed by a vulture? SS: The film is very careful not to come down on one side or the other. I really don't think there is a simple answer to that. Greg Marinovich would probably tell you that sometimes they would help, and sometimes they wouldnt, and sometimes they would feel like they should have helped and didn't, and sometimes they would feel like they lost a photograph because they helped. I just think that it's very difficult, I don't think you can condone one side or another.
Q: How did you decide how much violence to show?
SS: I actually think it was'nt violent enough. A couple of journalists who wrote reviews about the film have taken that position they thought it was smoothed over, and not graphic enough. So I don't know. If I did it over, I'd probably have made it a little more graphic.
Danny Peary: You made an interesting choice with the violence. There's no screaming in pain when anybody dies, theres no emotion going on as people are killing and being killed. Even the guy that burns to death never screams.
SS: What you're talking about are the scenes with the Zulu. I was trying to do it close to what happened, and he didn't scream. One of the reasons you don't scream when you're on fire is that the fire sucks the oxygen from your mouth, so it's actually very difficult to even just breathe, and you really don't have the kind of wherewithal to scream. In that instance, that's how it happened. With the warriors some of the stuff is going to be missed by certain audiences I don't know if you remember, there's a moment of splashing the warriors with water--the warriors would do that, thinking it would make them invulnerable. So when one of their comrades would go down, they wouldn't stop in horror or gasp, they would just keep moving, because they believed that he'd either done something wrong, he was cursed, or he didn't take the water properly. It was Greg who first described that to me. I was always fascinated by that idea.
Q: In keeping with the authenticity, were there any close calls, with bullets flying, and all the craziness going on while you were shooting?
SS: There's a scene near the end of film where Joao Silva grabs the back of a vehicle, but Neels wasnt meant to really grab it, just to hold on. But Neels ran it down and grabbed it and fell and messed up his knee.
DP: Usually characters change during the course of the movie. Kevin obviously changes. What about the other guys? If they dont change, is that hard to have them written where they dont change?
SS: My advice to first-time filmmakers is: one, dont make a film with four main characters; and two, don't make a film about journalists--because they're deceptive, in the sense that they're presented as good subjects for films, but they're actually not. They're presented that way because theyre in extraordinary situations, but they're bad subjects for films because they dont have any stakes in the stories that they are covering. What was unusual about the Bang Bang Club was that they actually did have stakes. It was easer to find stakes because they weren't dropped into some foreign conflict; they were journalists who were literally getting into a car and driving 5 kilometers down the road to cover a warzone that was in their backyard. That kind of implicated them in that context a little more, but still not completely. I think in addition, to circle back to exactly what you asked, finding an arc in a true story is tricky. I didn't want to reduce their story, I wanted to stay close to what had happened to them. So Joao's character doesnt really change very much. I don't think he did. I think Joao is not just a great photographer, he's also wired to deal with the job. It's not that he's entirely unaffected, but he certainly does not display the same kind of symptoms that the others did.
DP: Do you think Greg changes?
SS: Yeah, I think the fact that he doesnt take combat photographs anymore shows that. He changed the direction of his life. Before he was killed, Ken was changing from a really old school, slightly racist South African white male to someone who really just wanted to be Cartier-Bresson and take photographs that weren't always violent. Kevin was, well, Kevin.
Q: Was there actually film in the actors cameras when their characters were taking photos in the film?
SS: You'd have to ask them. I know everybody took a lot of film, but I dont know who was doing it while they were shooting. I know Taylor took photographs all the time and has thousands of photographs from that shoot.
Q: Under what circumstances did you show Greg and Joao the final cut? Were they together?
SS: No, Joao saw it when he was in the hospital a month or two ago. I think they like it and think it's competent. It's a very big part of their lives. Film is a somewhat impoverished medium, so I don't think it captures the 3-dimensionality of the book and is not always as visceral.
Q: Have you received any feedback on the film from ANC?
SS: It's being released in South Africa in July, so I haven't gotten any sense of what the wide public thinks yet. There have been screenings in South Africa, and it's been very positive. People complain about the accents, but that's our national pastime If it's somebody else's film, I complain about the accents.
Q: Do you see yourself going back to documentaries or staying with fiction features, now?
SS: I'm about to do two feature films, but I dont think I'll stop making documentaries.
Q: How do you feel about South Africa today, and what's going on there now? Is it resolving itself in the ways that you think it should?
SS: I think in South Africa it's really too soon to tell. I think there was a chance for a very large social project to emerge in the wake of that first election, a substantive shaping on the new country. I think that goal has been somewhat met. The vast majority of peoples lives there is far better than under apartheid, there's no question about that. Could there be a lot more done? Yeah. I certainly would like to see a lot more done.
Q&A with Taylor Kitsch and Malin Ackerman
Q: Taylor, you took hundreds of your own photos while you were making the movie. Do you have plans to publish any of those photos on a website or in a book?
Taylor Kitsch: I definitely got caught up with it all. I dont think I'm that good enough yet to have my photos published, to be honest with you. Maybe down the road.
Malin Ackerman: There are a few that are really great, actually.
TK: I'll let Malin say that, not me.
Q: Malin, did you take any pictures?
MA: I didnt take any. I was in an office for most of my scenes in the movie. It probably wouldnt have been that exciting. I let the boys take care of that. But all of us took a one-on-one photography course. We knew what a camera was and how to develop film.
TK: Theres a scene where a guy is throwing a Molotov cocktail at one of the trucks. I was taking real photos there, and I blew those up, and I have them on my wall. We recreated the cover of the book where Kev is--he's crouched and taking a shot. It was pretty cool.
Q: Do you have any comment on American photojournalists Tim Hetherington [the Oscar-nominated co-director of Restrepo] and Chris Hondros being killed in a combat zone in Libya on April 20?
TK: I think its a great time for our film. It just makes it that much more relevant. I think any attention you can bring to these cats, what they sacrifice, is good.
Q: What did you learn about photojournalists from your experience making this film?
TK: A lot. Knowing Kevin Carter made the ultimate sacrifice really just grounds you. I think we all take for granted what these guys do out there and what they put out every day, and for me, personally, this was pretty much a wake-up call. We can all be quite selfish sometimes.
Q: What was it like meeting real-life Bang-Bang Club members Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva?
TK: When I shot on the first day, I obviously wasnt speaking South African. It was a good first day. I met Greg Marninovic that day. It was a huge day for me, obviously. I hadn't met Joao yet. And the funny thing is, I was talking with my normal accent and just watching Ryan on set the first day. And Greg says, "Where's your accent?" And I'm like, "I'm not playing Kev yet." They both couldnt wait to hear it. We sat down and were just keeping the questions as simple as possible. And the one question I would ask both of them was: "What five attributes would you give Kev, if you could just explain the guy in five words or less?" And one of them couldn't get to the fifth word without breaking down emotionally, so that says a lot about how close it still was to them. It just raises your game to play it right.
Danny Peary: Malin, what did you ask the real Robin Comley?
MA: We had a very intimate discussion at her workplace. Shes still a photo editor and I shadowed her for a day, and figured out what happens at a newspaper and what her role is. And we sat down for about three hours. One of the more prominent questions was about how she reacted in certain situations; for instance, when Greg got shot. She was so much the mother hen of the four boys; they were her boys. I said to Robin, "I'd never been in a situation like that. How did you handle it? Did you break down when you got to the hospital after Greg was shot? Did you stay strong?" I wanted to make sure those moments were true to what actually happened. And she just said, "I had to keep it together for everybody, because if Greg had seen me break down, we all would've lost it." So it was mostly asking specific questions about certain situations Id never been involved in myself. And also, "What do you do throughout the course of her day? How close were you to the boys?" We had about three hours of just crying together and laughing together. She showed me pictures and told stories. It was the same thing when I was with Greg and Joao. It was really hard because they had to keep stopping in the middle of the story. Even though Ken Oosterbroek and Kevin Carter died 17 years ago, it's still so raw for all of them.
DP: Was Robin usually keeping her emotions in check?
MA: I think when it comes to work, of course, at certain moments she can't. But I think, after a while, as it is with any of us who watch the news, you get numb to it after a while. They say, "A mother drove off a bridge with her three kids," and it's an awful thing, but at the same time, you've heard it so many times now that youre not reacting to it as you would be hearing it for the first time. You're just going to be an emotional wreck if you dont numb yourself to a certain extent. But then that comes with its own complications. Robins a very sensitive, loving and amazing woman, really. She's incredible.
Q: Did you become a "mother hen" to any of the actors in the movie?
MA (laughing): Not really. I was like one of the boys, I think. I dont think they needed a mother.
TK: I could've used mother a couple of times.
MA: Yeah, but also because Taylor was on a really crazy diet. Finally, a nutritionist came in and said, "You've got to stop." Because he'd lost, what, 30 pounds! There was definitely a motherly concern.
Q: Taylor, was this the first time you lost that much weight for a role?
TK: Absolutely. I wanted to be honest to Kev.
I didnt think I could really relate to him if I was all jacked and like my football-player Tim Riggins on Friday Night Lights. Greg Marinovich he was like, "How did they hire you?," because I was a lot bigger when I got the role. Silver was in South Africa as well when I was prepping and we would Skype while I'd be losing all this weight, and he just kept saying, "Stop. No one asked you to do this." I said, "No." There's a line I wanted to get to for Kev as well. I had a picture of where I wanted him. So it was strong motivation.
Q: Can you talk about learning a South African accent?
TK: Steven Silver wanted us to get taught by a South African. We had two great coaches on set every second while we were working. For me, personally, it was tough, just because Kev's so emotional so often, so that I wasn't really concerned about the accent when there was so much stuff to play to. There'd be a couple of nudges in between takes, like, "Watch it."
Q: What was it like filming on location in South Africa?
TK: Loved it! Loved it! I dont think you could shoot it anywhere else. It's another character in this film. We were in Korozo and Soweto. Truly, were recreating these scenes that happened right there, near or on the killing fields. If you can't put yourself in the moment, you've got some more work to do.
Q: And how would you describe the people of South Africa?
TK: Love. Great energy.
MA: They're so open and warm and welcoming and such a happy group of people. It's amazing because they have one-tenth of what we have and get to enjoy on a daily basis, but they're ten times happier. They're an incredible group of people, really memorable. I think anyone who goes there will leave a piece of their heart over there.
Q: How did you spend your free time while you were in South Africa?
MA: There was a lot of time that we got to spend with the locals, a lot of the crew we were working with. We all had bodyguards there as well, because Jo'burg is known for being violent. And while I was there, it was my bodyguards birthday, and he invited me to his birthday party. I was the only white girl there. The girls were trying to teach me how to shake my booty, but they were laughing at me because I didnt have one. It was such an amazing experience, because you'd go to visit their home, which was government housing. It was a one-bedroom home that he had built, and his whole family lives there with him. They invited 150 people. It was a block party. Everyone's dancing in the streets, from five years old to nineyy years old. They had bags full of steaks that they fed to everybody on the street that came to the party. It was a true celebration. It was the best party I had ever been to in my life. That was the vibe that we felt almost on a daily basis. We were allowed to be immersed in their lives. We got to be a part of that, so wed go to the local places. We snuck out a few times without the bodyguards. We were lucky too, because Frank and Neels are both from South Africa so they took us to some of the local places. We also spent a lot of time in Mandela Square. There wasnt much to do.
Q: How did you feel about having a bodyguard who was assigned to you at all hours of the day?
TK: I'd been to Africa a few times and that was one of the safest places I'd been. I never felt fear. They were pretty great.
Q: What attracted you to the movie?
TK: Everything. On a personal level, I think if you could pull something like this off, you're going to grow as an actor and as a person. And just for the challenge that it held for me personally, it's a dream role, really. As much as it is taxing on you physically and mentally, it's what you get from it: to tell a story and bring someone to life through a performance. It was educational as well, a true story and what those guys represented. The stakes were just so high. There was just so much for me to dive into and as an actor, it was incredible.
MA: I'm always attracted to films that are based on true stories or documentaries and, of course, that aspect to this film was a huge attraction for me. And knowing that I was going to meet the woman I was playing was really a new experience. I had never done anything like it. It was a huge challenge and I felt a lot more pressure than with any role I've ever done. But I think that's sort of what this is about: You get to challenge yourself. I have no idea if I pulled it off or not. But it's one of those things where you put yourself out there, give it a shot, challenge yourself, and do things that scare you. And this was a really sort of a scary, exciting experience.
Q: What was the toughest scene for you to do?
MA: The one where I was the most nervous was the one where Robin steps out of her comfort zone and goes out with Greg. That was a really challenging day because we were in this shanty town, and shooting in a school that was just dirt, floor and walls. That was their school. It was not knowing how youre going to react in a moment like that. Sometimes something is written in the script, and you react to it a completely different way when you are on set. It was a scary moment, because it's such a big scene for Robin and a big moment. But being in that environment helped bring something out naturally. It was just a really emotional experience.
Q: Did it bring some level of excitement, too?
MA: Yeah, it was exciting, particularly because it was based on a true story. Greg was there that day, and he had to take five and just walk away, because that was his real, true experience. It's strange, because you forget sometimes in a scene that this really happened. It helps to be in the environment, but it's never easy to go in it in a day like that. Taylor had a lot of heavy days.
TK: Uh, where do we start? Its funny when you get a script, and you're trying to map it out, and you go, "OK, that's a big day, a bit more energy, this and that, especially with the emotional stuff for me." I felt like I was circling a lot of scenes. Kev was just broken a lot, and to play that honestly is very taxing. The vulture scene was a big one for me, because if you dont just knock that one out. You need to do it right because its essential to what pushed Kev to do what he did. That was a big scene to have Joao there with me. It was huge. We both were just crushed after that. It took three takes.
DP: Was Kevin saveable? Could he have changed his self-destructive ways?
TK: Hmmm. I wish I knew him well enough to know. I cant answer that. I'd like to think so. I dont know.
Q: How do you feel about the debate over how objective photojournalists should be when theyre documenting a crisis, and whether they should get involved and help people who are in danger or suffering?
MA: It's an ongoing discussion, this topic. I personally feel like they were doing their job. I also have to mention that with Greg and Joao and those guys, there were moments when they tried to intervene in situations, and actually it was too dangerous for them to intervene, because they also would have probably gotten killed. It's so hard to judge unless you're there. Having spoken to them, they're tortured every day by the decisions that they made, but I truly believe that what they did was super-important. I think they did the right thing in taking the pictures and documenting it. In many instances, they were there with the Peace Corps or the Red Cross close by. And so they were doing their jobs; the others were doing theirs. But that's just my opinion. In my eyes, they're heroes, just like our troops. They're in the line of fire, trying to put the information out there so the rest of the world can see it.
TK: Their cameras are really their guns. It's really their way of making a difference too. Everyone has their own moral integrity. Every situation is different. What's funny though is that even now, with modern-day news, you turn on any channel tonight, and it's going to be negative. You don't hear about the journalists who rescued someone or caught someone jumping or did something to prevent something worse from happening. Ken Oosterbroek's death is a perfect example of the dilemma. If I'm there, trying to do everyone else's job, I'm actually endangering and impeding a process. It's knowing where you stand. It actually takes a lot more courage to do that than to just be chaotic. Like I said, everyone's different. So it's an endless debate.
Q: Do you think The Bang Bang Club effectively conveys an important message beyond telling a true story?
MA: I think so. I think it definitely is effective. There are some amazing images that were quite similar to what actually happened. I think it was a beautiful recreation of that. I think it does make you think. I think it does bring up the moral question--is it right or wrong? It's also so timely because we constantly have civil wars and religious wars and have journalists who are in the line of fire constantly.
I certainly think it's one of those films where you walk away, and it stays with you for a while, which is what Steven wanted. He wanted to do these photographers justice by giving you a story to walk away with. Now, if someone says, "The Bang Bang Club," you know who they were. I had no idea who they were before getting involved in the movie. I knew some of the pictures, but I didn't know their back story.
TK: I agree. To be able to walk away and tell someone's story, especially what Kev went through, and show a full spectrum, I feel personally I've done literally everything physically and mentally I could to do, so I could let go. So just on that level, I feel like I'm OK with it, no matter what anyone says about it. But the movie as a whole, absolutely, I think there's an emotional ride you get to go on and it's very effective.
Q: What's been the most important emotional impact that making The Bang Bang Club has had on you that still affects you today?
TK: I think the sacrifice that people are making to give the story exposure.
Q&A with Ryan Phillippe and Greg Marinovich
Q: Could you talk about the photojournalists that unfortunately got killed in Libya?
Ryan Phillippe: Yeah, the timing of this movie is insane, but I defer to Greg on that. Greg Marinovich: It happened yesterday, and obviously it's very upsetting. They were two great photojournalists, and Tim was a filmmaker as well. But I think what this does is underline the risks that journalists face, not just photographers. It's part of the whole dilemma of how much emphasis we should put on people who choose to be in a warzone, like we did? How much sympathy are we due? Not much, I suspect. It's not great, it's terrible, it's upsetting, they were terrific guys. But we do go there voluntarily, and I think that has to be borne in mind.
Q: Ryan, how was it playing a real person who you got to know?
RP: In any movie adaptation of a true story, liberties are taken, and you have to kind of accept that as an actor. Greg and I spent time together in person only about a week before we started shooting. Because this was a small film, you don't have a ton of prep, and there wasn't enough money to fly me out and keep me in South Africa for weeks before we started shooting. The brevity was somewhat regretful, but I think the challenges for me, beyond the accent...
Greg Marinovich: Which you did very well.
RP: Thank you. The challenges were sort of an education. There was a lot about this time in that country that I wasn't aware of. I knew what apartheid was, I knew the dynamics of it, but I did not know what in particular was going on with the government, how it was stoking the infighting. I did a lot of reading. I read the history of South Africa, I read Mandela's autobiography. A lot of it was new for me. I was getting a sense of what was going on there politically and socially.
Q: Greg, when you were watching the film, which aspects of your personality did you feel Ryan did exceptionally well?
GM: Ryan did particularly well on my looks! I think it's quite weird at times--watching a movie is quite a different experience. Being on set was fascinating, because the actors all looked like their characters, some quite closely. So that was quite disturbing, to be honest, and quite interesting. It can't be easy acting as somebody in a situation where two of those people are there on the set, looking at you and making comments, and interacting with you. It's quite complicated, I think they did really well.
Q: Ryan, what were the moments of trepidation for you in terms of doing this?
RP: I don't think of it in those terms. Because I'm excited by challenges and new territory, trepidation or fear doesnt really relate in that regard. I think for Greg and Joao, it was important that their two dead friends were not portrayed as caricatures or stereotypes. And I think we wanted to pay respect and honor to them. I think that's the thing we were most careful with, essentially, the memory of Ken and Kevin. But it was emotional for us at times.
GM: Very much.
RP: When we would shoot in the actual places where events took place, and it looked almost exactly like it did then, there was something impactful about that. How fresh it seemed to be shooting in those locations where the memories were still so raw for a lot of people.
Q: Greg, do you think it was overconfidence that led to your being shot and going to the hospital?
GM: My overconfidence? Well, that was kind of a movie moment. It did happen but not in such dramatic circumstances. There wasn't really a gun battle going on when I ran across the street to get Cokes. But there might have been overconfidence--certainly for you to cover these things, you have a sense of immortality. Because if you know you're going to get hurt or killed, you're not going to do it. If you know you're going to get killed for taking a picture, you're not going to do it. That's ridiculous. What you have is a sense of I know it can happen but I really don't think it's going to happen to me. When you drive in a car, you don't think you're going to have a car accident, but the chances of having a car accident are greater than getting shot doing photography. What you do is kind of suspend that inevitable, if it is going to be the inevitable, and when it happens, it's quite a shock. Then it looks like overconfidence and hubris and such. But before it happens, it's fine.
Q: You don't do combat photography any more--when did you get to that point?
GM: When I married a good-looking girl about ten years ago. In '99, in Afghanistan, before American involvement, we were with the Northern Alliance, and I had a bad feeling for days. I wanted to leave, but the people we were with wanted to keep going and I was hit. I'm a freelancer, I have get replacement teeth, I spend a month recovering. It's ridiculous. So that's when you realize that's just stupid and move on.
Q: Ryan, do you have a newfound respect for photography now?
RP: Certainly in regard to the light photos can shed on certain social and political situations, absolutely. Also, it's interesting that was a period of time before the prominence of the internet, and how immediate the media has become. So those photographs really did educate the world in a lot of ways, as to what was happening in South Africa at the time. I think the importance, photographically, still exists to some extent, but I think that now it's different with Twitter and Facebook. We saw what was happening in Egypt every single second. It wasn't that way then. The importance was even greater during the period of time that they were taking these photographs, because Time magazine was the world's window into situations like the fall of the apartheid. Now I think there's a lot of different ways you can access that information. We're talking about it like it's long passed, but things have changed technologically so drastically. I think it was more important then.
GM: I think there's a kind of democratization of media, today. It allows voices to be heard that couldn't be heard previously. One of our issues was trying to get these organizations to tell what we thought was the truth. Those Pulitzer pictures that appear in the movie of mine, not of Kevin's--were widely distributed, but they werent widely used because they were too distasteful. Yet that was what was happening, so how did we get those things out to the world with no internet? In retrospect, there are bodies of work that tell stories, and I think that's very important they be seen.
DP: If you looked at the three other people in the Bang Bang Club, could you tell the difference between their pictures and know who took each picture?
GM (laughing): Should I say yes? Sometimes. Sometimes you recognize a style and stuff, but an individual picture is difficult. If you looked, in the old days, at a neg sheet, and stuff, I'd say yes. A series of pictures, I'd say yes. But sometimes you'd be wrong.
Q: Where did you guys go to hang out?
RP: I loved the food in South Africa. On an independent film, there's not a lot of free time. I got to experience the country from a social standpoint, interacting with people, and I loved that, the energy and something so alive about a country that's still reshaping its identity. I got that from my interaction with people. But there wasn't a lot of time. I'm going back July for the premiere of this film there, and Im going to take my children and were going to go on safari, and were going to go to Soweto. I really didn't have time to do that kind of thing when I was there. South Africa gets under your skin.
GM: I think it's a kind of combination of openness and in-your-face. In New York, in a way, it's a brassiness, whereas in South Africa it's kind of earthy, because its such a mixed society. And Johannesburg, it's a new city essentially and no one has been there for more than three generations. Everyone's a newcomer, it's very open. Johannesburg is full of immigrants from all over Africa and all over the world, and it's vibrant and crazy and unpredictable. The country's obviously physically beautiful, and that's wonderful. I think that in countries that undergo difficult situations as a society, something happens to people that makes them more interesting, and look at things differently. There's a lack of glibness in the way they deal with people. I think that's one of the things about South Africa.
Q: Ryan, what do you think makes a photograph great?
GM: Are you going to ask me about acting?
RP: If it's able to tell a complex story in a single frame.
Q: Are there similarities, do you think, between being an actor and combat photographer in terms of telling a true story?
RP: Not directly, not in my mind, no. I would equate being a photographer in a war zone with being a soldier. Theres something about putting yourself into that situation the preparedness, the risk, the devotion to what youre doing. I dont feel like acting compares really in any way to either to being a solider or a combat photographer. I think there's far more risk involved physically. I definitely find myself about thinking about what Greg and Joao and Kevin and Ken did without protection, they had no weapons per se, and that concept was so compelling to me--the idea that you would willingly place yourself in such a perilous situation without any kind of protection, not even vests. They'd find them cumbersome, so they wouldn't want to wear them. There's a mentality there that I don't think a lot of people can relate to, that I was fascinated by. DP: Greg, can you relate to keeping emotions in check while taking pictures that are supposed to be really emotional?
GM: I generally don't. I don't believe in this objectivity nonsense. I think one has to be honest and truthful, but to be subjective is more honest. And why should I pretend I'm a technician or just a cameraman when I'm taking pictures of other human beings? That's just ridiculous. Those kinds of pictures are essentially soulless. So my emotions are all out there when I'm photographing. I get involved and let my feelings out.


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