A recent suicide bombing attack in Afganistan claimed the lives of six young children, including four who were pupils of the organization Skateistan. The organization is one we’ve profiled in the past, thanks to the 2011 documentary of the same name. Skateistan.org had this to say:
On the morning of Saturday September 8th a suicide attack in Kabul claimed the lives of a number of young Afghans. The bomb was detonated outside of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) HQ, where many of the street working children of Kabul sell trinkets, scarves and chewing gum to help support their families.
We are very sad to learn that of the six young children confirmed to have passed away, four of them were students, volunteers and youth leaders at Skateistan, who were well-loved and well-known faces for the entire team in Kabul. It is therefore with great pain and heavy hearts that we share our memories of children who were not just victims of senseless violence, but also beautiful human beings who will never be forgotten by their teachers, peers, co-workers, students, friends or family.
A version of this story aired on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition on Sunday, October 9th, 2011.
Danfung Dennis worked for several years as a war photographer in Iraq and Afghanistan. In time he came to feel that still photos didn’t portray what he was seeing and hearing on the ground. The romantic image of war he had grown up with from video games and movies was not what he was finding while embedded with Marines in the field.
“There isn’t an orchestra playing when you’re running through a battlefield,” says Dennis. “There isn’t you know, huge drums. It’s just pure terror.”
Outfitting his Canon 5D Mark II with a jerry rigged set of stereo sound equipment, Dennis made the documentary Hell and Back Again– which took the World Cinema Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance. The innovative way this photojournalist turned first time filmmaker uses sound makes the film stand out from other contemporary takes on the war in Afghanistan; which is not only the longest war in American history, but will likely prove to be the most extensively documented.
Dennis and sound designer J. Ralph reworked audio gathered on the battlefield in Afghanistan to underscore the film. They use this to tell the story of wounded Marine Sgt. Nathan Harris who, back at home in North Carolina, suffers from flashbacks. Dennis says those flashbacks often start with sound.
“The sound of gunfire, the sound of crying. It’s often that you’ll hear these sounds and see these images in your mind as if they were a memory, but they become so intense that you actually stop seeing what’s around you.”
Underscore is a traditional film technique to convey an emotional through line, but Hell and Back Again takes a different approach.
“He’s using real sounds and treating them in a way like music,” says Gary Rydstrom, the seven time Academy Award winning sound designer of such films as Saving Private Ryan and Titanic. “So all the source for the music like sounds during the movie are real sounds. Real people, real crying, real military equipment slowed down and processed in weird ways and used like music so it gets to you emotionally but its all made from real stuff.”
Listen to the attached audio version of the story above to hear examples from the film.
That processed sound becomes a drone, that Dennis sometimes uses to blur the line between the present and the past.
“I’m trying to convey what it feels like to actually have a flashback,” says Dennis. “And I try to really lay those underneath scenes of normal America, coming through Walmart, yet there’s something still there underneath.”
What’s underneath this documentary is almost an inversion of a traditional film score. Hell and Back Again’s unusual sound design– rooted in the reality of battle– brings the audience deep inside the story of a wounded Marine returned home.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and promise you that this will be the first of two posts on Present Shock, the Douglas Rushkoff book that has been getting a mountain of attention in the tech press since it was released earlier this month.