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2015, 70m, documentary
War Passenger is a documentary film that tells the story of David Axe, a middle-class, suburban-raised South Carolina resident who walked away from his family, friends, and career to travel to Iraq in 2005 at the peak of the Middle Eastern conflict. Armed with only a backpack and a video camera, David embraced his role as a “citizen journalist” and continued to seek out the world’s worst war zones. Since 2005, he has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Somalia, Chad, Congo, and East Timor.
10 questions with War Passenger director, Robert Watson at the half-way mark.
Sunday, April 17th, 2016
1Hi Robert! Thanks for submitting this wonderful film. I'm curious, how did you come to meet David Axe and what was it that made you want to make a documentary about him and his experience? I first encountered David's name while reading a short review of his graphic novel War Is Boring in Rolling Stone magazine. I was intrigued immediately at the thought of this lone individual traveling around the world to war zones and documenting his travels through a comic book, of all things. After finding his contact information online, I reached out and flew to South Carolina to meet with David and talk about a possible film.
2How much footage did David have from his travels? How much footage did you sift through? David had shoe boxes in his apartment filled with over 100 hours of miniDV tapes from his various trips around the world. He would send me batches at a time that I would log and capture for use in my film.
3There is some gruesome footage in this doc. How and why did you come to conclusion to show the footage of of dead bodies that others might censor? There are some very graphic scenes in the film that many will find hard to watch. At times, I found them hard to watch while I was editing the film and questioned if I was going too far. Ultimately though, I decided not to shy away from the disturbing imagery that David had shot. This is a film about traveling to the world's worst war zones, and like it or not, violence is a part of that. It shapes these conflicts and the people involved, including David.
4I feel it takes a very specific type of person that would feel compelled to be a war correspondent. Do you think you could do a job like that? That's a tough one to answer, because it's just so far removed from my everyday life. Physically and mentally I'd like to think I'd be up to the task, but I suppose one doesn't know until they're actually in the thick of it. I do think the time I spent with David gave me a bit more perspective on what life as a war correspondent would be like.
5War Passenger is your first feature film. How did you know you were ready? Well, I had felt ready to make a film for some time, and I had assembled the knowledge and equipment to do the job, but until I had the right story to tell, I couldn't move forward. The story itself was the last piece of the puzzle. After reading David's graphic novel, I immediately felt compelled to tell this story though the medium of documentary film. Fortunately, he was receptive to the idea, and I was able to move forward.
6How long did this film take you to make and what was the most difficult part about it? I started the film in 2011 and finished editing in early 2015, so it was about a 4 year process start to finish. The most difficult part was finding the right balance in the edit between all of the materials I had to work with. I had David's 100-plus hours of footage that he had shot for his own journalistic purposes, the footage I had shot specifically for the film, and also the comic book material from David's books.
7What's the film that made you want to become a filmmaker? I can't pinpoint a specific film, but just documentaries in general. Although they are obviously meticulously crafted with cameras, lights, and editing, the idea of real people telling real stories just really resonates with me.
8What was the most eye-opening nugget of wisdom that you took from David's experience? Talking with David about his experiences changed my perspective on the world as a whole. My comfortable average life is so far removed from the day to day existence in a war zone that it almost felt like a different planet to me. Of course, it's not. We all wake up in the morning and move through our lives with hopes and aspirations, regardless of our surroundings.
9During the shoot, was there a moment when you captured something and you knew you had a great scene on your hands? If so, which scene was it? The bulk of the footage that I personally shot was the lengthy interviews I had with David. Although everything was going smoothly during the shoot, it wasn't until about 4 or 5 hours into the interview that we really hit our stride. The specific scene that stands out to me is when David was recalling a harrowing series of events that had happened to him in Chad while on the streets during a firefight with a group of child soldiers. I had watched his video footage from this particular night and hearing his descriptions, I knew it would be a very dramatic and powerful moment in the film.
10What's next? More documentaries are on the horizon. I've got several ideas percolating, but my next film will probably be a documentary short. Stay tuned!
About the Interviewer: Ben Hicks
Ben Hicks is a writer/director and co-founder of Fandependent Films. Ben is currently working on making Fandependent Films awesome and is finishing up his first feature film entitled Kids Go Free to Fun Fun Time which was selected for the 2017 IFP Narrative Lab.
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