THE MAKING OF KORENGAL
From May 2007 to July 2008, Battle Company of the 173rd Airborne Brigade was stationed in the remote Korengal Valley of eastern Afghanistan – considered one of the most dangerous postings of the war. The soldiers of Second Platoon built and manned a remote and strategic outpost that they named “Restrepo,” in honor of their medic, PFC Juan Restrepo, who was killed in action. This is their story, in their words, of a group of men who came to be considered the “tip of the spear” for American efforts in that area.
In the past decade, the Korengal Valley – a rugged valley six miles long near the border with Pakistan – has become an epicenter of the US war in Afghanistan. It was considered to be a crucial relay point for Taliban fighters moving from Pakistan toward Kabul, and several top Al Qaeda leaders were thought to have used it as a base of operations. In 2005, Taliban fighters cornered a four-man Navy SEAL team in the Korengal and killed three of them, then shot down a helicopter that was sent to save them. All 16 American commandos on board died. By the end of 2007, almost one-fifth of all the combat in Afghanistan was taking place in the Korengal. The fighting was on foot and it was deadly, and the zone of American control moved hilltop by hilltop, ridge by ridge, a hundred yards at a time. There was literally no safe place in the Korengal; men have been shot while asleep in their barracks. To date, close to 50 American soldiers have lost their lives there.
Starting in June 2007, Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger dug in with the men of Second Platoon, making a total of ten trips to the Korengal on assignment for Vanity Fair and ABC News. Each trip started with a helicopter flight into the main firebase in the valley and then a two-hour foot patrol out to Restrepo. There was no running water at Restrepo, no internet, no phone communication and, for a while, there was no electricity or heat; it was essentially just sandbags and ammo. Some days the outpost was attacked three or four times from distances as close as 50 yards. Hetherington and Junger – sometimes working together, sometimes alone – did everything the soldiers did except pull guard duty and shoot back during firefights. They slept alongside the soldiers, ate with them, survived the boredom and the heat and the cold and the flies with them, went on patrol with them and eventually came to be considered virtually part of the platoon. By the end of the deployment, they had shot a total of 150 hours of combat, boredom, humor, terror and daily life at the outpost.
Conditions for filmmaking couldn’t have been harsher. The surrounding mountains rose to a height of 10,000 feet – all of which was traversed on foot. Long operations meant carrying enough camera batteries to last a week or more, on top of the 50 or so pounds of gear required on even ordinary patrols. Cameras got smashed into rocks, clogged with dirt and hit with shell cartridges during firefights. Men were killed and wounded during filming, so there was a constant issue of when it was OK to turn on the cameras and when it was not. Only the filmmakers’ close relationship to the men of the platoon allowed them to keep shooting in situations where other journalists might have been told to stop.
Three months after the end of the deployment, Hetherington and Junger traveled to Vicenza, Italy, where the unit is based. They used two Veri-Cams, a full light and sound package and two cameramen to conduct in-depth interviews with their main characters. These interviews – initially considered a kind of glue for the verité, and a way to avoid outside narration – wound up being some of the most powerful and affecting material of the entire project. The soldiers were able to allow themselves a level of emotion and introspection that is simply not possible in combat.
While Junger and Hetherington were finishing work on their Academy Award®-nominated documentary RESTREPO, they envisioned a second film utilizing unused, never-before-seen footage they shot in Afghanistan and on the base in Italy, and making a Part II to the film somewhere down the road. Their idea was to center the film on the same soldiers in RESTREPO, but to approach their experience from a totally flipped perspective, and to explore new ideas and themes, completing their body of work about the men of Battle Company 2/503.
Unfortunately, Tim Hetherington was killed in Libya in April 2011, and they never got to make that film together. Junger went on to direct Which Way Is the Front Line From Here? The Life And Time Of Tim Hetherington for HBO, and once he was finished with that project he decided to go back to the footage that he and Tim had shot in Afghanistan and make the movie they had envisioned a few years earlier.
Instead of setting up the project with a distributor or broadcaster, Junger decided the only way to make the film he wanted to make was to do it independently.
After months of editing with Michael Levine (who was also the editor on RESTREPO), Junger was again faced with the decision of whether to show the film to distributors and broadcasters and sell his film, or whether to continue down the path he had started and release the film by himself. Ultimately, Junger chose to take the independent route and release KORENGAL on his own, and has since raised the funds through a highly successful Kickstarter campaign with Saboteur Media.
KORENGAL is a Saboteur Media presentation; a Battle Films production in association with Goldcrest Films and Outpost Films; directed by Sebastian Junger; produced by Nick Quested and Sebastian Junger; field photography by Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger; edited by Michael Levine; original music by Marty Beller; co-produced by Gretchen McGowan.
Sebastian Junger, Director
New York-based writer and journalist Sebastian Junger first ventured into film with the documentary RESTREPO, which he shot and directed with colleague Tim Hetherington. RESTREPO chronicles one year at an American combat outpost in eastern Afghanistan; the film won the 2010 Sundance Grand Jury Prize for best documentary and was also nominated for an Oscar® and an Independent Spirit Award. Junger ’s accompanying book, War, spent over a month on the New York Times bestseller list. Junger’s next film, Which Way Is the Front Line From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington, was a moving portrait of the acclaimed war photographer and his RESTREPO co-director that premiered on HBO and was nominated for a PGA award and was short-listed for an Oscar® in the Best Documentary Feature category. Junger’s books include The Perfect Storm, Fire and A Death in Belmont. Junger first reported from Afghanistan in 1996 and, four years later, was one of the last Westerners to accompany legendary guerrilla fighter Ahmed Shah Massoud during his war against the Taliban. Junger has reported for Vanity Fair, where he is a contributing editor, from many war zones across the world: he was trapped in Monrovia during the Liberian civil war in 2003, caught in Sierra Leone during the civil war of 2000 and very briefly held by “oil rebels” in the Niger Delta in 2006. His October 1999 article in Vanity Fair, “The Forensics of War,” won a National Magazine Award for Reporting. Junger ’s next project as a director is The Last Patrol, which is set to premiere at the end of 2014 on HBO.
Nick Quested, Producer
Nick Quested is executive director of Goldcrest Films, which has been key to the financing of projects such as TWILIGHT, TROPIC THUNDER, EAGLE EYE, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD and 2012’s Academy Award®-winning THE IRON LADY. Nick was the producer of ELVIS & ANABELLE (2007), which was directed by Will Geiger and starred Blake Lively and Max Minghella. His credits as an executive producer include THE WINNING SEASON (starring Sam Rockwell and Emma Roberts, 2009); RESTREPO (Sundance Grand Jury Documentary Winner, 2010); HOMEWORK (Sundance Narrative Selection 2011, starring Emma Roberts and Freddie Highmore); ON THE ICE (Berlin Film Festival Crystal Bear Generation 14Plus and Best First Feature Winner, 2011); CHEERFUL WEATHER FOR THE WEDDING (starring Felicity Jones and Elizabeth McGovern, 2012); THE GIRL (starring Abbie Cornish, 2011); and DARK HORSE (starring Christopher Walken and Mia Farrow 2011). Quested is currently directing SING SING, a documentary about the theatre program in Sing Sing Prison."
Gretchen McGowan, Co-Producer
Gretchen McGowan is currently producing a slate of three to four films each year as head of production for Goldcrest Features. Last year’s releases include the Fox Searchlight release THE ART OF GETTING BY and Todd Solondz’s DARK HORSE. This year, Gretchen completed David Riker’s THE GIRL, which filmed on location in Mexico and Texas, and Sebastian Junger’s WHICH WAY IS THE FRONT LINE FROM HERE? for HBO. McGowan oversaw production, post-production and delivery of the Academy Award®-nominated RESTREPO and James Ivory’s THE CITY OF YOUR FINAL DESTINATION. She produced Jim Jarmusch’s THE LIMITS OF CONTROL and prior to that oversaw and produced more than 25 films as head of production for HDNet Films, Open City Films, Blow Up Pictures and as an independent producer. Titles include Alex Gibney’s ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM, Zoe Cassavetes’ BROKEN ENGLISH, Jarmusch’s COFFEE AND CIGARETTES, Brian De Palma’s REDACTED and Mary Harron’s AMERICAN PSYCHO."
Michael Levine, Editor
MICHAEL LEVINE received an Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Editing for the Oscar- nominated documentary RESTREPO (2010), directed by Sebastian Junger & Tim Hetherington. Currently, Michael is finishing THE LAST PATROL and just completed KORENGAL with director Sebastian Junger. A couple of years ago he edited Ken and Sarah Burns' CENTRAL PARK FIVE, which screened at Cannes, Telluride and The Toronto film festivals. He was also the editor on such critically acclaimed films as Liz Garbus’ BOBBY FISCHER AGAINST THE WORLD (2011), Bennett Miller’s THE CRUISE (1998), Amir Bar-Lev’s MY KID COULD PAINT THAT (2007), Jennifer Venditti’s BILLY THE KID (2007), Vincent Fremont and Shelly Dunn Fremont’s PIE IN THE SKY: THE BRIGID BERLIN STORY (2000) and Ken Burns' BASEBALL (1994). "
Marty Beller, Music
Marty Beller is the drummer for They Might Be Giants and received a Grammy Award in 2009 for his work on the band’s album, Here Come the 123s. Marty is a composer for the Fox drama GRACEPOINT (Broadcast Fall 2014), Season 3 of IN TREATMENT (HBO), THE LAST PATROL (Dir. Sebastian Junger/HBO 2014), THE CRUISE (Dir. Bennett Miller/Emmy Award), EMPTYING THE SKIES (Dir. Doug and Roger Kass, Prod. Jonathan Franzen); Biography of Groucho Marx (A&E); iRead, Math 180 and Expert21 Series (Scholastic); MANHUNTERS (A&E); and Dominick Dunne’s Power, Privilege and Justice (CourtTV), among many others. Marty was a nominee at the 2013 Bessie Awards.