The following organizations, started by friends, have been a constant source of inspiration and steady guidance for me.
Tim Hetherington became my friend, when I worked as the Military and Veteran Outreach Coordinator for the film RESTREPO, made by him and author and journalist Sebastian Junger. Tim’s Trust was established after his tragic death in Misurata, Libya, while covering the conflicts in that country. While we were all devastated, Tim’s Trust carries on his vision by supporting cause-oriented journalists making a difference through the Visionary Award.
Founded by NY Times journalist, Mike Kamber, The Bronx Documentary Center involves the local community to explore a diverse array of current topic matters through photography and filmmaking in their own unique voice, driving social change.
After the untimely death of his filmmaking partner and friend, Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger realized that journalists were going into combat and conflict zones without basic first aid training. Designed to give them real life skills to save lives, RISC now trains journalists throughout the world in multiple sites.
Director Sebastian Junger and Producer Nick Quested went back through the unused footage of Restrepo to see if there were any aspects of combat that were yet to be mined. The result of this search was the film Korengal, a deeper look into the psychology of the men who went to war.
Same men, same battle, same valley, different film. But how to expand upon the overwhelming acceptance and love that we garnered for Restrepo? How do we create a campaign that distinguishes us from a slew of feature films, where the emphasis is on a single heroic icon?
Mike Fabre of the 173rd in NYC introduced himself to our street team. He grew up with Doc Restrepo.
The difference? We understood that at its essence, Korengal is about family. We needed to re-engage the very same audience who took Restrepo as their own. So we hit our databases, took to the phones, and contacted veterans groups and organizations across the country. Our partners included TAPS, Soldiers Angels, and the Defenders of Freedom. We generated local buzz for our premiere weekend in NYC, when team member and former US Army Sergeant Gabe Tolliver commanded a street team to drive people to the theater. Fortunately, it was also Fleet Week, and they were strategically posted throughout the area.
With our fundraising threshold crossed in a breathtaking 48 hours on Kickstarter, every effort had to deliver a maximum punch. In addition to a full press schedule,* we sent Sebastian where there was a strong veteran and military presence. Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, Austin, San Antonio, Ft Hood, Dallas, Denver, Chicago, DC, NYC, and to The Pentagon, US Army Heritage & Education Foundation Center, The National Infantry Museum at Ft Benning, US Military Academy (West Point), Walter Reed, Capitol Hill, and the prestigious Pritzker Military Library & Museum. Veterans, active duty, parents, military historians, politicians, film auteurs, therapists, and founders of organizations were just some of the people who flocked to see this follow-up film to Restrepo.
Korengal played in theaters across the country. To ensure that there was a local connection, we reached out to veterans to do a Q&A at every city where it played. This required an extraordinary amount of outreach to local veterans, and coordination with the mTuckman Media, theater managers, and the PR teams who created the local ads. Graphics were created for each city, with the names of the special veterans, who would be on hand to relate their own experiences to the audience after the screening. Every veteran who spoke had served in combat in Afghanistan, Iraq, or both.
Sergeants Chisenhall and Cortez in Columbus OH
FromAlbuquerque to Boston, veterans were telling people in their communities about their combat experiences. Many veterans wrote to tell us that for many of them, the Q&A was the first time they’d talked about it in public. The result was national and regional press, along with high participation on our Restrepo and Korengal Facebook pages. Tens of thousands of new supporters engaged with us.
Work on Korengal carried with it a responsibility to carry on in memory of the late Tim Hetherington. Two soldiers from Battle Company paid tribute to him at the Little Rock Film Festival. Sergeants Jason Mace and Michael Cunningham accepted the Arkansas Times Audience Award:
Sargeants Mace & Cunningham accept the award at LRFF
“First, we want to thank the Little Rock Film Festival crew for putting all of this together and bringing us out here and really showing us what Southern Hospitality means. Next, we want to say that this is for all the service men and women who have served in the Korengal, because this is not just our story, it’s theirs as well. 42 American Soldiers lost their lives fighting in that valley, from units such as:
1st Battlion, 3rd Marines 1-32, 10th Mountain Battle Company, 2-503d 1-26, 1st ID 2-12, 4th ID
This is for EVERY soldier that never came home, for the parents, children, and loved ones who think of them daily. It’s for those of us who are home, searching and finding purpose in our new lives. It’s for the men and women who are still serving, and carrying out their missions with both grace and humility. It’s for Sebastian Junger, our battle brother, for rallying even after Tim’s death in Libya. Lastly, this is for Tim Hetherington, whose friendship changed our perspective in both our daily lives and our worldly views, whose spirit lifted us when we needed it, and for whose artistic vision still continues to move us daily. Thank you.”
With Korengal, we tapped into the community that was already there. We claimed and regained the sense of family that veterans so often miss, while kicking off a much-needed dialog about veterans in America.
MAJ Dan Kearney, Producer Nick Quested, & Director Sebastian Junger with leaders at West Point
*Press interviews were arranged by Fredell Pogodin & Associates, Los Angeles, JMP Verdant Communications, New York City, and Prodigy Public Relations, Santa Monica.
Restrepo, a film by the late Tim Hetherington and author Sebastian Junger, was the right film at the right time.
Outpost Restrepo, Korengal Valley, Afghanistan. Photo by Tim Hetherington
In 2010, America had been at war for almost 10 years. But for all this time, much of the public was at the mall. Very few really knew what was going on “over there,” and despite the attacks on 9/11, the war was heavily politicized, stymieing any exchange. But things were changing amongst the parents, veterans, and others who make up what could be called, “the war community.” There was a vow never to let another generation of veterans be maligned or forgotten. This generation wasn’t going to be invisible.
For the first time since World War II, a massive outreach to active duty and current war vets had grown. Starting in garages, home offices, and organizing via the internet, there were thousands of groups in towns across America. In a spin off of the late WWII journalist Ernie Pyle, service members found their voices through blogging. Suddenly, America had a less-filtered perspective from boots-on-the-ground, as well as insight from Household Six. On a personal note, a family member of mine had been deployed twice. Not only was war part of my lexicon, the community around me was ready and accessible.
Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington in Los Angeles, in the days before the release of Restrepo.
So the time was right for Restrepo. There was a need for a film that showed what combat looked like, and more than that –what soldiers thought, and said. With this documentary, America would now a front row seat into the world of combat. Once Restrepo won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, we knew that the outreach efforts were just beginning. While the critics loved our film, we knew that for the life of the film, it was important that the community from whence it sprang, embraced it as theirs.
Outreach included jumping through the final hoop through the U.S. Army’s motion picture and television public affairs office, OCPA-West. For good measure, we showed it to the Marines too. Restrepo brought together the milbloggers, non-profit organizations, families, private, and government entities. We phoned, we wrote, we even found volunteers to knock on businesses that worked with or hired vets. We had to explain what the movie was about, over and over again. We sent out posters, and postcards to groups all over the U.S. The film screened on bases, in Washington DC, in museums, and film festivals. It also played for the Iowa National Guard, umpteen times for the Red Bulls, pre-deployment. We reached out to organizations of all sizes. From those that ran on a shoestring, to others that had generous budgets. From quilters to snipers, from yogis to milbloggers, and veterans from all wars, the outreach on Restrepo was broad. People who saw it related to the guys on the screen. It became their story, their mission to get the film seen.
Carmike Wynnsong theater at Ft Benning.
And we did. In addition to national press, Tim and Sebastian both went on tours. East coast, West coast, all points in between. Plane, train, automobile –usually a small Toyota. There was good times –with Tim and Sergeant-Major Caldwell in Nashville and Ft Campbell. Sebastian and Tim together in Santa Barbara. When they weren’t screening a film, they were stuck in the hotel room on the phone doing interviews with the press. Sebastian had the double duty of promoting his book WAR at the same time. There were many sleepless nights, and thousands of miles logged as Tim and Sebastian poured their heart into meeting the audiences they wanted to reach. The theaters were packed, and several managers did a lot to welcome Sebastian and Tim, as well as the other soldiers who showed up to share the stage, and answer questions. Audiences packed the house, and veterans from all wars came. Our Facebook page grew, and engagement ran high. We were galloping fast, and our growing posse rode beside us.
Tim, Idil, Aron, Misha, Daniela, and Sebastian at the Oscars.
Restrepo was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary. Our supporters watched as Sebastian, Tim and Sergeants Aron Hijar and Misha Pemble-Belkin went to the Oscars. Facebook fans created a tribute, “Restrepo in 3 words.”
Unfortunately, we didn’t win. Tim wrote: “Well – we didn’t get to take the little gold man home but we definitely ran the ball pretty damn far down field, taking the war to the red carpet and connecting people to what is happening in Afghanistan. Thanks to everyone for their support during this incredible journey.”
Tim Hetherington with a quilt presented to him by the Quilts of Valor Foundation.
As if making a quilt, we provided the pieces –outreach, communication, and a sense of belonging. The military and veteran supporters did the sewing. In the end, our outreach was successful. Restrepo wasn’t only a film, it became a rallying point for the community.
But then, sometimes, good things do come to an end.
Sadly, as everyone knows, a month later Tim was killed as he was covering the war in Libya. This was devastating, to our team and to the military community who accepted him as one of their own.
Tim with Battle Company soldiers at Ft. Campbell.
At his funeral, American flags that had flown over the US Capitol were presented to his family, and to his girlfriend by four members of Battle Company. But Tim would always stay with us. Sebastian’s next three films, would have a lot to do with Tim. In addition, organizations were started. RISC –which has trained over 200 freelance journalists in advanced first aid was started by Sebastian. The Bronx Documentary Center, which showcases art, photography, and film for the local community was started by his friend Mike Kamber. Tim’s Trust was started by the Hetherington Family.
What our outreach on Restrepo did was to bolster the community already there, bring the wars to the attention of a wider group of people, and build a foundation for all of our other films that would follow.
Fire Squad: We’re here to make sure your stories get told. We don’t shy away from the book or the film about war, combat, or the aftermath. Because every person who goes to war, and every family who lives through it, has a story to tell. Fire Squad makes sure your story gets targeted to the right audience.