A soldier sits with his head down during the Vietnam War near Quang Nghai, 1966, by renowned Vietnam War photographer Tim Page

Shooting War Review: Photographing the Front Lines

Hot Docs 2022

4 mins read

Shooting War
(Canada, 67 min.)
Dir. Patrick Dell
Programme: World Showcase

Photojournalists have the dubious honour of having their work praised and coveted, but their profession often overlooked. In Shooting War, director Patrick Dell goes behind the lens and highlights nine conflict photographers exploring their experiences, motivations, and struggles with the job. The film is a touching tribute to the men and women behind some of the most haunting and important photographs from around the world.

The project began when The Globe and Mail with Professor Anthony Feinstein brought several top conflict photographers to TIFF Bell Lightbox in 2019 to talk about the challenges and experiences of their job. Alongside the journalists’ stories captured then, Shooting War considers six decades of conflict and contains photos and video footage from Afghanistan, Albania, Baghdad, Beirut, Colombia, Gaza, Haiti, Israel, Iraq, Kosovo, Liberia, Libya, Panama, Rwanda, Sarajevo, South Africa, Syria, Vietnam, and Zaire.

Each photographer details moments of their career with uninhibited rawness. It’s clear that mental health issues plague all of them to some extent, given the constant suffering they encounter on a daily basis. As the film dives into the psyche of what motivates every photojournalist and what darkness stirs inside them, we’re given a stark and honest look into their inner lives.

Throughout the film, Dell weaves together the interviews of the photographers alongside their footage. The images are filled with death, sadness, and despair, colouring in the unspoken grief each photographer displays without fail.

As a documentary, Shooting War is a fairly paint by numbers affair. Dell employs simple aesthetics and storytelling mechanics, which ultimately works in the film’s favour. By using a bare-bones approach, the images and the stories are the focus and their message resonates deeply.

The importance of the work of the men and women in Shooting War, and their colleagues, is hard to underestimate. As history is dictated by the victors, the preservation and archive of wartime devastation (regardless of who caused it) is not only meaningful, but also necessary.

In a different time, journalists were considered neutral observers and protected against targeted violence. Unfortunately, whether due to the uprising of social media and instant reporting or a change in our culture, the press no longer enjoys this security, as exhibited most recently by the tragic and deliberate death of Palestinian-American correspondent Shireen Abu Aqla by Israeli troops. Additionally, the current war between Ukraine and Russia shows the extent to which authoritarian regimes want to suppress images and videos that don’t support their goals.

It’s easy to see how Shooting War is not only an evergreen topic, but one whose relevance only grows with time. Dell does a great job grounding and contextualizing the pictures we see in magazines and casually scroll past online, offering a glimpse behind the grief and sadness of those who capture them.


Shooting War had its world premiere at the 2022 Hot Docs Film Festival.

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