To depict the neutral journalist as somehow morally inferior to aid workers, doctors, and other non-combatants is a one-dimensional reading of a complex situation. In fact, many journalists cover conflict because of a sense of moral indignation. The Bang Bang Club members in particular were not parachuting into a foreign country; they were South Africans disgusted by their government’s inhumanity. The act of bearing witness and placing oneself at risk in trying to make some sense of the horror is work deserving of a more nuanced treatment. It might depict Marinovich’s friendships with blacks in the townships, something that comes out in the book but not the movie. Or maybe it would show the discipline required to get up every morning at 4 a.m. and face the unspeakable with professional calm (which should not be mistaken for lack of compassion). Only Carter is given a soul in the movie, yet all four were principled human beings.
The movie stops in 1994, the year Mandela was elected president in the country’s first democratic vote. But the correspondents’ lives today are ever shadowed by the ones they lived during that time. After taking some of the iconic images of South Africa’s tumult, the two authors went on to cover conflagrations abroad, although violence eventually sidelined them both.
After being wounded by gunfire four times, the last in Afghanistan, Marinovich finally swore off combat eleven years ago. He’s made peace with peace and much prefers to shoot documentaries about traditional African customs and spend time with his kids, now aged four and six. He is working on another book, about a murderer who married his mother.
“Suddenly it all catches up,” Marinovich told me. “You put all these barriers between yourself and suddenly the reality is there and it’s not a bubble any longer. I got wounded so many times, once critically, that I no longer thought, ‘Well it’s not going to happen to me.’ So I thought, ‘Okay, time for something different.’ ”
Like most writers of memoirs that have become movies, Marinovich “disassociates” himself from the film version. “It has the same title but it is not the same story. It’s not my life. I don’t see the character as me.” Yet choosing his words carefully, he absolves Silver of responsibility to him. “Filmmakers and writers don’t have to stick to the facts.”
Silva is facing a harder time adapting to civilian life. A misstep in a minefield in Afghanistan last October blew his two legs off below the knee and he has undergone more than fifteen operations to repair his bowels and urinary tract. When I visited him in May, Silva could only move on his prosthetics with a walker or metal bars, and many days was too drained by repeated infections to get out of bed. Doctors expect him to remain in Washington DC’s Walter Reed Army Medical Center until the end of the year, separated from his wife and two young children in South Africa.
The day we met, Silva had just attended a photo shoot with New York magazine for a spread on war photographers, and the irony was not lost on him that this time he was on the wrong side of the camera. “I don’t want a future taking studio portraits with lights,” he said resolutely. “I want to get back in the field.”
A nurse entered with an x-ray machine and a cup of pills. Silva reached for a bottle of water but it dropped and rolled away on the floor. I waited for an awkward beat to see if he wanted me to pick it up. With a resigned face he nodded, “Yes.”
It was a quiet drama, nothing like racing past snipers. But it sure carried a punch.