Screened as part of NZIFF 2002

War Photographer 2001

Directed by Christian Frei

Switzerland In English and German with English subtitles
96 minutes 35mm

Director, Producer, Editor


Peter Indergand, James Nachtwey


David Darling, Eleni Karaindrou , Arvo Pärt


Amsterdam Documentary 2001; Sydney 2002


James Nachtwey
Christiane Amanpour
Hans-Hermann Klare
Christiane Breustedt
Des Wright
Denis O'Neill


"James Nachtwey, the subject of the Oscar-nominated documentary War Photographer by the Swiss filmmaker Christian Frei, doesn’t look the part. Instead of the cynical, chain-smoking buccaneers we’re accustomed to from fiction films like Under Fire, Nachtwey, in his mid-fifties and lanky, with a full shock of hair, has a cool, almost Zen-like deliberateness. He speaks slowly and carefully, as if he had long ago weighed his words, one by one, and was only now offering us their gravity. He has been photographing the globe’s worst hot spots for 25 years and has probably seen up close more grief and ruination than anybody should have to see in a dozen lifetimes, and yet he still believes he’s making a difference. He regards his photographs as an antidote to war, and himself as an antiwar photographer... 

Frei, who followed Nachtwey around for two years, attached a miniature video camera to the photographer’s film camera; we seem to be an extension of Nachtwey’s eyes and ears. We can hear him breathe, we see the same ongoing blur that he sees. Then the moment is frozen, and we view his photograph in the instant he captures it. The disparity between the fluid video imagery and the stark stills is an object lesson in the different ways in which movies and photography affect us. When we observe, in the video imagery, the wailing of women in Kosovo, or a family of beggars living beside the railroad tracks in Jakarta, it’s easy to fall into a generalized despair about what we are witnessing; it’s easy to blank out. The photos that arise from this rush are something else again. They carry the force of an indictment, and they seem to fix for all time the suffering that we see... 

What’s remarkable is how often the photographer’s subjects allow themselves to be caught on film; it’s as if they understood implicitly that Nachtwey was there not only to agitate for reform but to memorialize their agony. He does both. His thoughts about how photography has the power to abolish war may provoke our sweet condescension, but how can you condescend to a man who has seen all that he has and still feels this way? Nachtwey clears the cynicism right out of you. He makes you realize that deep inside righteousness can be found a tough beauty." — Peter Rainer, New York