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Journalism under fire – literally – in <i>A Private War</i>

A Private War screens Tue. Oct. 30, 9:30 p.m., at the Lucas Theatre.

ROSAMUND PIKE turns in a riveting, career-capping performance as war correspondent Marie Colvin in the film A Private War, screening at the SCAD Savannah Film Festival.

While Pike herself is English, Colvin was a New Yorker who worked for the British newspaper The Sunday Times from the mid-‘80s until her death during the siege of Homs in Syria in 2012.

She made her name in 1986 by being the first journalist to interview Mohammar Gadhafi after American bombings of Libya during the Reagan administration.

Wearing a distinctive eyepatch – the legacy of a 2001 grenade explosion while covering the Sri Lankan civil war – the witty Colvin was famous, notorious even, for disregarding personal safety in her quest to talk to the real people victimized by various wars throughout the world.

Documentary filmmaker Matthew Heineman (Cartel Land, City of Ghosts) turns his hand to narrative feature film in his debut. We spoke to him recently about A Private War.

How did you manage the transition from documentaries to features? It must have been challenging.

In some ways it’s a huge challenge, and in some ways it’s just one level of storytelling. 

I’m making a film about a world I know, the world of journalists. So it’s not like I’m leaping into faraway territory.

 There are some changes in that I’m dealing with actors, and a film set. But much like the basis of my documentaries, there has to be a level of trust here as well, in this case with the actors, developing a rapport with them. 

What drew you to this story?

It’s one of the most important stories to tell right now, especially with the whole idea of journalism under attack, in a politically polarized world with charges of ‘fake news.’ This film is, among other things, about celebrating true journalism and the people who make it their profession, and who take great risks to do it.

Marie Colvin is also an interesting character in her own right.

She is a very creative but complex person. It’s important in telling her story to examine the amazing work she did in the field, and chronicle the effect it had on her both mentally and physically. This is about the quest for truth and knowledge which drove and motivated her, and also what plagued her. 

She was plagued by the question — which I have often struggled with myself as a filmmaker — of “does the world care?” Will the world care about what we’re doing here, about the story we’re trying to tell?

Amid the geopolitical headlines, she focuses on personal stories. The real losers in war are always the civilians caught in the crossfire. Those are the people she died for, telling us their story.