Don McCullin is perhaps the war photographer of the 20th century. This self taught photojournalist documented all manner of conflict, quarrel, humanity and inhumanity this planet had to offer. His photographs told the true story of what was happening in Berlin, Vietnam, The Congo, Northern Ireland, and Beirut. This film is his chance to reflect; both on what he saw and how he saw it.

McCullin’s images are unquestionably the draw in this film. Seeing so many indelible visuals appear one after the other, it’s both moving and harrowing – especially in a theatre where they dwarf the audience. But one can easily get the same effect from a book, or a gallery. Why go to a film?

To hear the photographer speak, that’s why.

McCullin illuminates his frame of mind with great candor and slight weariness. He is able to not only recall the atrocities he has captured with amazon clarity, but he is able to take you behind his lens and explain the mindset of a war photographer. To many, such death and gruesomeness is the moment to look away, to “show some respect” as some might say. To not only keep looking, but to immortalized the violence on film, requires a particular mindset. I could never explain that mindset, but McCullin can…with a great deal of grace.

This film is handsome, but not without flaw. I do wish McCullin’s photos were brought further to the forefront instead of sharing the stage with archival film of the conflicts in question – but I understand the reasoning behind the decision. As wonderful as a photo essay would be for someone like me, this film is looking for broader appeal. Still, a bit more balance would have been nice. What’s more curious, is a detail mentioned during the post-film discussion with the producer/director, McCullin himself, and his former editor Sir Harold Evans:

During one assignment, McCullin was thrown in prison and threatened with execution by Idi Amin.

It’s understandable that there are only so many stories one can tell in 89 minutes, but how in the world does such a story get left on the editing room floor? The film does take a few moments to discuss McCullin taking fire in Cambodia, and the injuries he sustained, but for my money, getting incarcerated by someone like Amin is as important a detail in the man’s life, if not more so. For all I know, McCullin didn’t want to talk about it…but I can’t shake the feeling that it was an opportunity wasted. That said – the film is still something of a work in progress.

Edit – This point of criticism has been specifically addressed by someone involved with the project in the comment section. Please take a look as it clarifies the decision. (RM)

Above all, this is a film that needs to be seen to witness what mankind does to one another, what we continue to do to one another, and how the very select few can not only stand by to witness, but can convey the message of injustice back to the rest of us so elegantly. There are many nameless victims of terrible injustice whose stories I won’t soon forget, and it’s all thanks to Don McCullin…and this intelligent film.

McCULLIN plays Sunday April 29th – 6:45pm at Isabel Bader, and once more on Sunday May 6th – 10:30am at The ROM. (official website)