Director Sebastian Junger is breaking Hollywood’s romantic portrayal of war by showcasing the battlefield’s real face in his follow-up to “Restrepo,” entitled “Korengal.”
Junger said he spent a year at America’s deadliest military outpost, Restrepo, in Afghanistan’s Korengal valley to gather footage from the battlefields for his first true-to-life war film.
He captured not only the heat of battle, but also the soldiers’ interactions during down time by living among the men and women in the military, he said.
“In 2005, I wanted to be embedded with American forces as we got bogged down more and more in Afghanistan — something that reflects more on our mistakes than the reality of combat there,” Junger said.
It wasn’t until 2012 that Junger decided to produce “Korengal,” after his friend and colleague Tim Hetherington died in a mortar explosion in Libya
“After Tim had been killed, we went back into the footage that he and I shot and decided that there was another movie in there, and that is how Korengal came to be” said Junger.
Staff Sergeant Eric Ortegren, who attended UNM as a graduate student in the social work program, said Junger had surprised him when the documentarian joined his platoon on the field.
“Junger was unlike most other reporters in that he became one of us and we accepted him, introduced him to what it’s like to be a soldier.” Ortegren said. “Whether you like him or not, love or hate, that guy is going to be right there every minute of every day from when you open your eyes to when you close them, period.”
Ortegren’s platoon lost seven soldiers on their tour in the Korengal valley, he said. In all, the area claimed 42 American soldiers and injured more than 50 percent of those deployed there, he said.
“We would have three or four fire fights a day every day for two months, and nothing for two months where we were staring at rocks and would have just the most depraved conversations; and really the experience when you can’t escape the guy next to you,” Ortegren said.
After viewing “Korengal” last week, Ortegren said the film accurately captured the thoughts and emotions borne in the valley.
Like its predecessor, “Korengal” does not present a political stance on the war. Instead, Junger hopes the film will help American soldiers and Veterans process their own experiences better, he said.
“The guys we were with were talking about aspects of combat in an extremely profound and affecting way, and (I thought) if I built the film around those discussions that the film might actually have some real positive and therapeutic value for other vets,” Junger said.
Moriah Carty is a freelance writer for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MoriahCarty.