ROA staffers were recently invited to a special screening of Restrepo, a documentary that chronicles the deployment of a platoon of U.S. soldiers to Afghanistan’ Korengal Valley. Restrepo won the documentary grand jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival in January, and I feel privileged to have seen this eye-opening, inspiring film, which unfortunately will have a limited release this summer (see details at the end of this post).
Filmmakers Tim Hetherington, an acclaimed photographer, filmmaker, and war reporter, and Sebastian Junger, bestselling author of “A Perfect Storm,” “Fire” and “A Death in Belmont,” dug in with the men of Second Platoon, Battle Company of the 173rd Airborne Brigade for a year and shot 150 hours of their deployment. Most of the footage used in the film portrays life at OP Restrepo, the remote outpost the men built and manned in the Korengal. Named in honor of PFC Juan Restrepo, a medic with the platoon who was killed in action early in the deployment, OP Restrepo was considered one of the most dangerous postings in the U.S. military.
Life at Restrepo and in the Korengal is characterized by extremes. The outpost, for a while, consists of sandbags, ammo, and little else. There is no electricity or heat, no running water and no phone communication. The soldiers are frequently ambushed and engage in firefights at random times throughout the day. Between the firefights, they work tirelessly to strengthen their defenses, digging into the rock and dirt of the hilltop with picks and shovels, day and night. And when the men finally establish their hold on the hilltop and repel enough attacks, the opposite occurs - boredom sets in, and we see how the soldiers find creative ways to pass the time between hazardous patrols and encounters with the enemy.
Hetherington and Junger’s stated intent was “to capture the experience of combat, boredom and fear through the eyes of the soldiers themselves,” and Restrepo does that masterfully. The filmmakers slept alongside the soldiers, ate with them, survived the elements with them, experienced firefights with them and went on patrols with them. They captured moments of success and humor, danger and heartbreak, and yet their presence in the film is almost undetectable. In that way, they are able to bring the viewer to the Korengal to experience a 94-minute deployment with the soldiers of Second Platoon. The result is that the soldiers’ dedication, bravery, struggles, and camaraderie shine through, and we, as viewers, experience to a small degree what war is like for troops on the front lines.
Restrepo will be playing at select locations throughout the country. To learn more about this film, please click here.