The Australian: Sydney film festival: Only The Dead calls fights, camera, action
Michael Ware and Justine Rosenthal saw a potent film within the camcorder footage
Ware captured during the Iraq War.
Picture: Renee Nowytarger Source: News Corp Australia
—Michael Bodey, Media and Entertainment Writer
Michael Ware and Justine Rosenthal have seen too much of war.
Ware embedded himself for CNN and Time in the worst of the Middle East after 9/11, primarily covering the hunt for al-Qa’ida. And Rosenthal had a prime career in US foreign affairs and treasury before moving to editing at Time and Newsweek.
Despite the trauma and despair they’ve encountered, they remain a journalism couple. He began his recovery from post traumatic stress disorder writing a candid piece for her at Time with his first line, “I should be dead. I wish I was.”
“We argued about it,” Rosenthal can now laugh. “I argued it should have been ‘I wish I were!’ ”
At the Sydney Film Festival today, the couple premiere their feature film Only The Dead, about Ware’s exploits and cruel encounters with al-Qa’ida insurgents, in particular the group’s founder in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Ware said he was “fairly public” about his trauma after “living America’s war on terror” for a decade without respite. “That took a significant toll and for the sake of the veterans coming home and the poor civilians who lived through these things and couldn’t escape, I told my story.”
Their documentary film is part of his recovery. He says it is “the story of a simple Australian journalist who bumps into war”.
But it became his catharsis too. He would leave his beat-up camcorder running to record dialogue amid the chaos of the Iraq War. Unless he needed a quote, he would not look at his videos before disgorging them in a box under a bed at his mother’s Brisbane home each Christmas.
After leaving CNN in 2010, he desperately sought some peace, so he went back to the tapes. The couple realised the accidental footage could make a potent film and, Rosenthal said, “the accidental nature of it gives it the veracity”.
But they are journalists and not meant to be the subjects. “It took a long time for him to accept he was the point of view and the consistent part of the story,” Rosenthal said. Overcoming that convention delayed the film for two years, Ware said. “I resisted and resisted because I was looking for anything else other than me,” he said.
Only The Dead may also document the end of the era of foreign correspondents. “I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to reclaim the glory days of coverage of a war zone,” Rosenthal said. “The money is not there and the war zones are so fraught in a way they weren’t before with their kidnappings and beheadings.”
Ware agreed: “The Iraq War was the first time journalists were targeted and hunted. No longer were we given observer status. The game completely changed in Iraq and it won’t be the same again.”