“They stand as witness”

Cape Town - HBO’s fast-paced, powerful documentary series Witness follows war photographers into some of the most dangerous places on earth, from Mexico to South Sudan.

War does not exist in a world of colour, nor does it exist in a world of black-and-white, it’s a half-world, a place where there are no true colours," war photographer Eros Hoagland says in the first episode of Witness, a documentary series focusing on war photographers around the globe.

Conflict is a horrific reality for many people throughout the world who can’t escape, so why would anyone from a “peaceful” country be willing walk into the middle of the action? A special type of photographer, the war journalist, is driven by being able to capture a moment in the chaos and tell the real-life stories of many casualties of violence, stories that would not ordinarily be heard by the world.

The four-part HBO documentary, created by Michael Mann, the executive producer/director of Luck and Collateral, with documentary director David Frankham, follows war photographers in four different locations – Mexico, Libya, South Sudan and Brazil – as they face the line of fire and document the conditions in these areas – from gang violence and corruption to trafficking and ethnic warfare.

"I share an admiration for the art and the truth-telling of photography from conflict zones with David Frankham," says Mann. "Sometimes, in a single frame, in the midst of chaos and danger, an indescribable, small piece of truth is captured. As journalists, as artists, they're drawn in while everyone else is running in the other direction. They stand as witness."

(Image Source: Witness - South Sudan)

Each episode is told from the point of view of the photojournalists covering the events and allows us to see the conflict through their eyes. The first and fourth episodes follow Eros Hoagland, whose father was killed covering a conflict in El Salvador in 1984. We see Hoagland struggle with the ethics of his position and marking the line between being a bystander and being an observer. “I just find myself coming across situations more and more and more where I realise part-way through that I’m putting someone else in danger if I continue on this line of reporting, and sometimes you have to weigh that against the pros of the message you’re trying to get out,” Hoagland said.

The Libya section features Michael Christopher Brown, a photojournalist who was wounded by a mortar round in April 2011 in Misrata, when two of his colleagues were killed. The episode deals with his life in the aftermath, and how he attempts to employ nuance when dealing with the political climate post-Gaddafi.

(Image Source: Witness - Rio)

Frankham said to Reuters that their reasoning behind making the series was that they wanted to give viewers a chance to see beyond what is shown on the news. He said they were frustrated that the news only allowed viewers to see conflicts summarised in 30-minute segments.

"Witness was born out of our belief that, by following the experiences and struggles of war photographers who risk their lives in an attempt to reveal the truth, we would capture an honest, ground-level view of conflicts around the world, and the people affected, in a way that had not been seen before," said Frankham. The hope of the filmmakers is that the series inspires dialogue with viewers about the issue of conflict, that it would change the way that we think about war, about journalism and about how we respond to conflict around the world. And that we would begin to ask more questions.

WATCH the trailer: 

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