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Documentary celebrates life and work of conflict photographer Chris Hondros

His iconic image of a government commander jumping with joy on a bridge during the Liberian civil war in 2003 established Chris Hondros as one of the foremost conflict photographers in the world. Seven years after he was killed on assignment in Libya, his childhood friend, Greg Campbell, pays tribute to the award winning photographer in the documentary “Hondros.” Christopher Booker reports.

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  • CHRISTOPHER BOOKER:

    It's the calmness of his voice that's perhaps most striking.

  • CLIP FROM FILM, CHRIS HONDROS ANSWERS THE PHONE:

    "Hello, this is Chris"

  • CHRISTOPHER BOOKER:

    As young men fire ak-47's in the streets of Monrovia, Liberia with the steadiest of nerve, 33-year-old Chris Hondros is able to politely tell the caller now is not a good time to talk.

  • CLIP FROM FILM, CHRIS HONDROS ANSWERS THE PHONE:

    "Things are fine. Things are fine. Let me give you a call back in about half an hour"

  • GREG CAMPBELL:

    As soon as I heard it I knew we were going to open the film with that because it was just so representative of who he was – how cool and collected he was in these extremely turbulent environments.

  • CHRISTOPHER BOOKER:

    Chris Hondros would spend a great deal of time photographing the final moments of Liberia's civil war in 2003 – one of the final battles was fought on this bridge where he would take one of his most famous photographs.

  • CLIP FROM FILM, VOICE OF CHRIS HONDROS:

    Something clicked in me at the moment that I was thinking about it. Just when they were about to charge. I started thinking about it at the moment, my whole career as a photographer had been leading up to a moment like that. And that the picture was on the bridge. There was no shortcut to that.

  • CHRISTOPHER BOOKER:

    This image of a Liberian commander would land in newspapers and magazines across the globe. And Chris Hondros would establish himself as one of the world's preeminent conflict photographers.

  • GREG CAMPBELL:

    That one particularly particularly famous image of the the government Commander jumping for joy after having scored a direct hit with a rocket propelled grenade is the one that really sort of propelled him to the top.

  • CHRISTOPHER BOOKER:

    For next the 8 years Hondros and his camera offered a window to some of recent history's darkest moments in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, and Libya. He would be nominated for the Pulitzer prize twice.

    But the documentary Hondros is not just a retrospective of his work – it's a portrait of a friendship that began in high school in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Hondros and director Greg Campbell's love of journalism started together during their freshman year. Hondros as photographer, Campbell as a writer.

  • GREG CAMPBELL:

    With journalism we found sort of a real easy route to go see history as it was being made. My first trip was to Bosnia during the reunification of Sarajevo in 1996 and Chris picked me up from the airport when I came back and his immediate question was How did you do it. What were the steps. What hotel did you stay in. How did you figure out the car. He wanted to do this work. He believed in it with all his heart. He was pretty clear eyed about what it meant.

  • CHRISTOPHER BOOKER:

    What Campbell's film follows is not only the breadth of this work, but a connection between all the photographs that Hondros took.

  • GREG CAMPBELL:

    Looking from the very beginning from when he first started. Photographing conflicts in Kosovo all the way up to the very end. Chris had a particular framing theme that he had his evidence in his entire body of work. It was always a little child a girl who was in sharp relief against sort of an anonymous military figure in the foreground. And of course you see that culminated in the series of images from Tal Afar.

  • CHRISTOPHER BOOKER:

    On January 18, 2005, while embedded with American forces in Tal afar, Iraq, Hondros would document an event that has come to help define the aftermath of the American invasion.

  • CLIP FROM FILM, VOICE OF CHRIS HONDROS:

    I hear children's voices inside the car and I knew it was a family. The back door opened and kids just tumble out of the car, one after….6 In all. And the parents sitting in front, were riddle with bullets, were killed instantly.

  • CHRISTOPHER BOOKER:

    The Hassan family car had approached an American patrol. The soldiers opened fire as the car drove toward them – the mother and the father killed in front their children.

    The bullet that hit 11-year-old Rakaan pierced his spine. The photograph Hondros took of his sister 5 year old Samar Hassan covered in her parents blood would be published across the world.

  • GREG CAMPBELL:

    Of course as a human being you want to drop all of your equipment and go running and comfort the people that you're seeing are suffering so badly. But Chris knew that his role was to publicize the events that he was seeing.

  • CHRISTOPHER BOOKER:

    The photos Hondros took caused a public outcry. After they were published, the army removed him from his embed assignment. Rakan was flown to Boston for treatment. Eventually he learned to walk again. But in 2008, after returning to Iraq, Rakan was killed by an insurgent bombing.

  • CHRISTOPHER BOOKER:

    I can't say there were a lot of happy endings with some of the subjects of the photographs.

  • GREG CAMPBELL:

    You know I think it was important for us to try to convey in the film because. Because I think Chris knew very well that there were also not a lot of happy endings after he snapped the shutter on his camera. And I've heard him say several times. That's as much as journalists and photographers are recording history, it's maybe more accurate to just say that they're recording a very narrow slice of history. And there are usually some of the most traumatic events of a person's life and I think Chris really wanted to follow up with stories to try to present a wider picture of what what occurred.

  • CHRISTOPHER BOOKER:

    In 2011 Campbell received a call from Hondros asking if he would like to join him on a reporting trip to Libya. In the past, he had mostly refused, but in a fateful decision, this time he opted to join him.

  • GREG CAMPBELL:

    We were in our hotel room in Benghazi and he said the photo journalism industry was overdue for a tragedy, that it had been a long time that they'd gone without suffering a loss or death and that was true at that point. The international photojournalism community had been extraordinarily lucky and then maybe a week and a half later Chris and Tim were killed one after another.

  • CHRISTOPHER BOOKER:

    Who do you think the audience is for this film?

  • GREG CAMPBELL:

    Well I hope it's a wide audience. I think anybody, especially with the debate we're having today about the validity of our profession, the thing that I really hope sort of resonates is that there is, there is still responsible journalists and men and women who are putting their lives on the line to convey what is actually happening and that those images can and should inform a conversation that should lead to discussions about policy. This is sort of what Chris believed.

  • CHRISTOPHER BOOKER:

    Hondros is now playing in select theatres in New York, Los Angeles and London.

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