War photography is surely one of the most stressful and dangerous occupations one could dare take up. Running into active battlefields or militarised zones with just a flak jacket and a camera for protection against bullets, bombs and all manner of horrors is hardly the most appealing job prospect. But for some, it’s not just a living but a worthy cause, telling the stories of the men and women who fight and lay their lives on the line in combat.
A Good Day to Die, Hoka Hey tells the story of one of those brave individuals – photographer Jason P. Howe, a war correspondent whose career stretches back to Columbia in 2001 and right through to the conflicts in Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan. Through revealing footage, rare photographs and interviews with Howe, his friends and colleagues, we are invited to not just experience a detailed profile of the film’s subject, but also learn more about the daily business of being a war correspondent in-depth.
Director Harold Monfils threads his documentary’s narrative well, keeping Howe and his experiences in the field front and centre, but giving a much wider scope to the trials and terrors that come with such an occupation. We learn (and occasionally glimpse) first-hand the carnage and horrific sights journalists like Howe would be faced with everyday through his shots, many of which are grim and hard to stomach, but revealing and moving in equal parts.
The film certainly has enough to keep it from becoming just another by-the-numbers video essay on war reporting, mainly due to the interesting and astounding first-hand experiences of Howe, who throughout his time as a photographer and correspondent, survived suicide bombings, firefights, and even a relationship with a paramilitary assassin!
The film takes the logical approach of exploring life beyond these moments, eventually giving Howe and his colleagues a chance to open up about his and their own battles with PTSD, their frequent struggles to report the stark facts of war with interference from M.O.D censors, and their struggles to acclimatise to normal civilian life after. It’s a fascinating portrait, exhilarating and eye-opening, like all the best documentaries should be.
Along with his accomplished editor Henrik Sikstrom, Monfils somehow manages to celebrate the work of war journalists and correspondents without glorifying war. Refusing to shy away from hitting us with the harsh realities of what they depict, many of which we merely get brief glimpses of in the national press, A Good Day to Die, Hoka Hey is sobering at the best of times, but told with grace and good humour by Howe, it’s also a fascinating and remarkable peek into an all-too real world we could barely imagine.
A Good Day to Die, Hoka Hey is out in UK Cinemas now.
It’s also released on DVD July 31st. Pre-order on DVD: http://amzn.to/2sRQoO6