Biopic tribute to slain war reporter Marie Colvin as journalism comes ‘under attack’

LONDON: A biopic of war correspondent Marie Colvin, who died in Syria in
2012, is a celebration of journalism as it increasingly comes “under
attack,” according to the film-makers.

“A Private War,” released in US cinemas next month, chronicles the
harrowing career of Colvin — played by “Gone Girl” star Rosamund Pike —
who was an award-winning journalist for Britain’s The Sunday Times.

The feature film debut of director Matthew Heineman — an Oscar nominee
in 2016 for his documentary “Cartel Land” — shows the reporter’s
struggles to cope with the impact of reporting from the world’s conflict

For Heineman, whose mother was a journalist, it is a “homage” to both Colvin and an increasingly besieged profession.

“It’s so important right now in this world of fake news and soundbites,
where journalists are under attack, to celebrate journalism and to
celebrate people like Marie,” he said at a London Film Festival
screening Saturday.

The movie, which got its world premiere in Toronto last month, hits screens as reporters face ever more threats.

Actor Jamie Dornan — of the “Fifty Shades” franchise — who plays
freelance photographer and longtime Colvin colleague Paul Conroy, said
the work felt “timely.”

“This is a film about telling the truth,” he said on the red carpet.
“Anything that can try to show true journalism in its finest light — the
people who will go to these places to risk everything to tell us the
truth — that’s a good thing.”

American Colvin died aged 56, alongside French photographer Remi Ochlik,
in an alleged government bombardment of a media center in the
war-ravaged Syrian city of Homs.

“A Private War,” adapted from a Vanity Fair article following her death,
depicts her decades-spanning career and the psychological and physical
toll it took on her.

It captures Colvin losing the sight of one eye — leading to her wearing a
signature eyepatch — while covering Sri Lanka’s civil war, and
interviewing former Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi shortly before his
death in 2011.

The film also shows her retreating into heavy drinking and battling
likely post-traumatic stress disorder in between assignments.

Oscar-nominated Pike said she was attracted to the part by Colvin’s complexity.

“I wanted to put a woman out there on the screen who is admirable but not every quality she has is admirable,” she said.

“There was something about... the fierceness of passion in what she did that I related to.”

Photographer Conroy, who was injured by the bombing that killed Colvin
but made a full recovery, said he was eager to advise on the film in
part because of Heineman’s background in documentaries.

“His idea of the truth carried through from that — it wasn’t just ‘let’s
make this frothy Hollywood film’,” he said at the screening. “The
attention to detail is extraordinary.”

Heineman said he spent months researching the story, including watching practically every war film ever made.

He also enlisted locals rather than actors to play the parts of extras in the war zones portrayed.

“Those are real Syrian women shedding real tears and telling real
stories,” he explained of scenes showing Colvin interviewing civilians
in Syria.

“That was really important to me to try to bring an authenticity to this experience.”

The director said making “City of Ghosts,” a 2017 non-fiction film about
a Syrian media activist group in Raqqa, and other conflict-driven
documentaries helped him empathize with Colvin.

“I just felt enormous kinship with her, and also her desire to put a
human face to poor innocent civilians who are caught in the crossfire of
these geo-political conflicts,” he added.

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