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(Hondros follows the life and career of famous war photographer Chris Hondros by exploring the poignant and often surprising stories behind this award-winning photojournalist’s best-known photos. Like what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not pay just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going?)

When Chris Hondros was killed in Libya, by mortar fire, on April 20, 2011, the world lost one of its preeminent war photographers, whose work had long been featured in major news stories, illustrating the central conflicts of our day. Killed that day, as well, was fellow photographer Tim Hetherington (Oscar-nominated co-director of Restrepo), also an important figure in the field, but one who did not happen to be best friends (since childhood) with journalist and filmmaker Greg Campbell. As a result, it’s Hondros who receives – for now – the epic, moving cinematic paean that he deserves, appropriately entitled, simply, Hondros.

By all accounts a committed and brilliant photojournalist, Chris Hondros was also a man with a finely developed moral compass, who sought to give back to the communities whose lives he captured on camera. With archival footage shot in the midst of battle, this excellent documentary immerses us in Hondros’ life and career in a manner both visceral and poignant. We find ourselves embedded in the very conflicts he photographed, watching in awe and horror as this crazy, resolute man runs into danger, armed with only a Canon DSLR. As the film makes clear, war photographers are, by definition, brave and/or reckless (depending on one’s point of view). Hondros was a maverick among such mavericks, with a talented eye for the perfect composition.

We hear from so many who knew and worked with him, including Pancho Bernasconi (of Getty Images), Ahmed Jallanzi (Hondros’ “fixer” in the 2003 Liberian civil war), Mike Kamber (a fellow photographer), Inge Hondros (his mother), Leila Fadel (NPR journalist) and Nichole Tung (a younger photographer whom Hondros took under his wing, in Libya, before his death), among others. Together, their voices sing a moving chorus where grief and tribute combine in perfect harmony. Not only do we get to know the movie’s subject well, but also the value of his contributions to both the news media and the art of photography. He risked his life for the important stories, that the rest of us might be better informed.

Campbell also spends some time examining the cost of conflict, itself, on all individuals involved. He interviews Brad Hammond, a sergeant in the unit in which Hondros was embedded in Iraq, in 2005, which mistakenly shot up a car filled with a large family, killing the parents and wounding one of the children. Hondros’ photos of the aftermath of the event – not approved for release by the military – were published around the globe, drawing attention to the atrocities and casualties of that war. Hammond never fully recovered from his part in the episode. Nor did the main girl photographed, whom Campbell also interviews. Hammond asks for forgiveness; she says she wants to drink his blood. Such is war.

On a more positive note, we see how Hondros sought, in small, but significant ways, to help heal the victims of these conflicts. He returned to Liberia after the Civil War, found Joseph Duo, whose photograph (with an RPG) had helped cement his reputation as a brilliant combat artist, and gave him money for an education. Duo is now a police director, and honors Hondros’ legacy. The aforementioned Jallanzi – now a photographer, himself – also credits Hondros for pointing him towards a new, fulfilling career. These are but two stories of the man’s generosity. I knew nothing about him prior to watching the film, but now mourn his loss. May we all celebrate the work that he, and others like him, undertake for our collective benefit.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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