Film Review: Only the Dead

Discussing Michael Ware and Bill Guttentag’s Only the Dead from the 2015 Melbourne International Film Festival – by James Cunningham


Inside Iraq
US Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, in Michael Ware and Bill Guttentag’s ‘Only the Dead’ – DOP Michael Ware, PHOTO Supplied

The story of what happens when one ordinary man, an Australian journalist transplanted into the Middle East by the reverberations of 9/11, butts into history. In 2003, the Australian journalist Michael Ware found himself in Baghdad following the invasion of Iraq. Ware picked up a small camera and began to film what was originally intended to be ‘video notes’ to facilitate stories he was writing for Time Magazine. No journalist had better access to the frontlines of that war, and Only The Dead showcases Ware’s personal video archive, accumulated over seven years on assignment.

A lot can be said about how the work of camera operators in the news business is overshadowed by the glossy music videos and slick car commercials of the homelands these wars are purporting to protect. But they play an important part in a rich tapestry of image-makers.

Brutal in its depiction, Only The Dead brings the audience to the frontlines while posing moral questions. While as a journalist his job was to observe and record, Ware (in attendance at the screening) said that someone’s suffering “does not change just because you have a camera in your hand”. Only The Dead plainly shows us what it truly means to be an observer in war.


James Cunningham is the Editor of Australian Cinematographer Magazine.

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