Thursday, July 20, 2006

Covering War Thoughts & Diatribe

Qiryat Shmona
Northern Israel / Lebanon Border
Tuesday 18th July 2006

There is no greater rush in our job, Television News than being live from a war zone. To know that what I am seeing through my viewfinder is what the world is sharing with me at that moment. The key is to know and think thirty seconds ahead, live TV gives you no time to stop and gather your thoughts and make a decision later, every fibre of your body is taunt when covering war live.

It is not just a routine live shot with a correspondent which in 75% of the times is a mechanical action with everything preset and the knowledge that short of a streaker running naked behind the camera you are going to be finished in three minutes.

Yesterday afternoon outside Kiryat Schmona two miles from the Lebanese border we went through two and half hours of live war from a vantage point on top of a hill in old Israeli bunkers. The field below us looked like a scene from a WW2 movie, a dozen howitzers firing 155mm shells into Lebanon, you see the turret flash then the rolling sound sweeps up the valley. The sense is like that when you are at the sea swimming in the surf and you duck underwater as the wave goes over you and for a moment your body is moved by the power of the wave sweeping over you, the sound is like that, it completes you.

To film this is and predict the firing is hard it requires fast calculations and observations and yesterday my senses were at their zenith. You have those days filming combat, days that progress and climax.

Earlier we had been down in the actual field up close and I mean up close within 10 metres of them filming inserts and here your entire body is assaulted and crushed the air is sucked out of you as these machines of war deliver vengeance. The first time you stand close and they fire, the shock and awe of the destructive power is so incredible that every sense in your body crushed for a few seconds before you come back, you feel like time has stopped for second so incredible is the assault, for there is no other word: you senses have been assaulted.

Now trying holding a camera steady and not jumping or moving it during the firing, the first time you really just hope and pray, somehow how yesterday it was different. You have days in combat when a seventh sense comes in and from the light to the movements it all works, there is only one way to capture combat and that is up close. The lens must capture the smoke and smell of cordite, you need the urgency and watch the young kid sweating and out of breath as he carries shells one after another through this haze of heat dust and smoke. Only then can you honestly say you have filmed war, it is not pretty or a video from 30,000 ft of a turret camera.

You cannot glorify war but the intensity of covering it when you are that close is such an adrenalin rush; it is the hook of the drug that brings you back for more. Nothing else can match this intensity of this addiction, you want the taste again and again, and such is the power of the images you create. They are not little ants scurrying around at the end of telephoto long lenses but in full frame that gives the complete impact of war.

In war people are killed and injured, there are victims and I have filmed all sides of war from every side there are moments when the hatred for what you have witnessed destroys you and I have broken down and cried. There are the nightmares and flashbacks that wake you at night in strange hotel rooms, but there are days when covering war completes you.

When we arrived on the hilltop it began with 8 katusahs being fired at us from Hezbollah, landing in the fields half a mile away and further down the valley and into the Golan Heights. Being under attack is one thing, but being under attack whilst live on TV it was one incredible day and for two and half hours through my eyes the world could watch war live.


Anonymous said...

Beware Mal,that the thrill doesn't compromise your judgement - stay real. But I honestly feel I know better what is happening through your brain (and blog) than just through your eyes (and camera). I guess I just don't understand war - the senseless waste of innocent young people for the boardgames of egomaniacal leaders. Regards, Drusy

21st Century Mom said...

OMG! You are way too close to the action. Of course it is important for the world to see what is going on first hand but still - please be safe!

Also, what Drusy said. Horrifying