The Bang Bang Club

The Bang Bang Club


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

With conflict ongoing around the globe, from Afghanistan to the Arab Spring uprisings in Syria, Egypt and elsewhere, there has arguably never been more need for on-the-spot reportage. But for every photograph of a body in the street or a crowd of protestors, there is a person at the other end of the camera. And anyone who doubts the dangers of that pursuit only needs to recall the recent news of the death of Restrepo co-director Tim Hetherington, who lost his life in Misrata, along with Getty photographer Chris Hondros, as they were filming the battle for control of a bridge.

As an experienced documentarian himself, Steven Silver obviously knows a thing or two about shooting under pressure and he brings a real sense of immediacy to his feature debut, which is based on the true story of a group of photojournalists capturing images from the final days of Apartheid era South Africa. These young bucks formed a camera coterie, who would head into the townships, frequently standing in the firing line to get the perfect shot.

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Silver isn't just concerned with the physical danger that photojournalist's put themselves in, however, but the mental predicaments that they face. It's one thing to risk getting shot for a shot, but what happens to your mental compass when you watch, and photograph, a man being immolated from four feet away, and are powerless to do anything about it? What price morality when you're trying to make the front page?

"Forget the long lens," Greg Marinovich (Ryan Phillipe) is told on the first day he joins the Bang Bang Club, "this shit only looks good up close". Silver embeds us with the journalists, taking us with them as they crawl over soldiers in the firing line, ironically saved from being caught in the crossfire between the battling Inkatha Zulus and ANC by the fact that they are white. This is not a celebration of these Pullitzer prize winners, so much as an evocation of their lives. Silver gives a vibrant sense of the adrenaline rush experienced as they battle to capture the perfect shot but also goes on to dig much deeper into the long-term impact of this sort of life.

Greg and Jaoa Silva (the two photographers on whose book this film is based) are seen trying to come to terms with the things that they have witnessed at the same time as Kevin Carter (Taylor Kitsch) begins to fall apart. There's a sense of the all-too-close breath of death fuelling a destructive devil-may-care attitude in every other aspect of their lives. Silver also touches on the issues of Apartheid themselves and the sense of privilege afforded to the photographers from the very regime they were in many ways undermining.

Silver offers no easy way out of his moral maze, just an unflinching look at conflict and its impact both on the perpetrators and those who watch.

Reviewed on: 24 Jun 2011
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The story of combat photographers in South Africa's apartheid era.
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Director: Steven Silver

Writer: Steven Silver

Starring: Malin Akerman, Ryan Phillippe, Taylor Kitsch, Patrick Lyster, Frank Rautenbach, Russel Savadier, Neels Van Jaarsveld

Year: 2010

Runtime: 106 minutes

Country: Canada, South Africa


Tribeca 2011
EIFF 2011

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