Director: Harold Monfils
Script: Harold Monfils
Editor: Henrik Sikström
Cinematography: Harvey Morpheus
Running time: 87 minutes
One of my favourite lines from any film can be heard uttered by Keifer Sutherland’s character, Nelson, right at the beginning of the film Flatliners, when he takes in the early morning air and says: ‘Today is a good day to die.’ Not only is it an intriguing first line to any film, or book for that matter, but it also sets up the whole premise of that underrated piece of 90s schlock. Hence, when I heard the title of this documentary, I just had to find out more…
A self-taught photographer, Jason P Howe, managed to survive 12 years on the frontline of four wars, capturing images of man’s inhumanity to fellow man, but also scenes of brutal beauty erupting out of the tangled ruins of towns and cities blighted by months, and indeed years, of ferocious warfare.
Beginning with footage of troops disembarking from a helicopter in Afghanistan, and following said troops around for a while, suddenly a British soldier steps on a IED and loses both his legs. Jason continued to take pictures throughout the incident and later, when he dared to publish them, even after getting permission from the injured soldier involved, it marked the end of his career as a war journalist, as he was, allegedly, blacklisted by the MoD.
The film then takes us back to Jason’s time in Columbia during a brutal civil war that saw him shacking up with a rebel assassin, Marilyn, then moves on depicting his narrow escapes during his stints in Iraq, Lebanon, and Afghanistan, again.
The documentary isn’t really about war photography though, it’s more about one man’s singlemindedness, and sometimes madness, in confronting the worst of humankind’s excesses through the many lenses of his cameras.
As the world of photojournalism changed around him, and following his issues with the British Ministry of Defence, Jason became increasingly disillusioned by his role of war correspondent. He ended up going on a two-year bender around Thailand, before finally settling down in Andalusia, Spain, where he combatted his own vivid nightmares by buying three big dogs to protect him from the shadows in the night.
Suffice to say some of the imagery displayed in this film is hard to look at, but one is guided through the horrors of war by Jason’s own laconic narration, alongside some of his fellow war journalist colleague’s talking heads interviews, which, at times, are more revealing than even Jason’s own reminiscences.
Filmmaker Harold Monfils (Laya Project) met Jason back in 2010 and was blown away (pun intended) by his work and his life story, hence decided to make a documentary about him, which has taken six long years to complete. Monfils is, therefore, to be applauded for sticking with what must have been a tough assignment, and for producing one of the most interesting documentaries I’ve ever seen.
Bulldog Film Distribution are distributing A Good Day to Die – Hoka Hey on DVD and Blu-ray. Special features include:
Five deleted scenes, entitled: ‘Growing up’ (1.15 mins), which informs us that Jason was a bit of a nerd growing up, and was brought up as a Jehovah’s Witness;
‘Other World’ (0.56 mins), which reveals that Jason’s first trip abroad was to the Pyrenees;
‘Crème de la crème’ (0.39 mins), where we find out that Jason’s greatest achievement was getting published in Times magazine;
‘The Green Book’ (1.04 mins), which refers to the agreement between the MoD and the journalists reporting on wars in order to protect the armed forces;
‘Rat f*cking’ (0.53 mins) – this odd term refers to stripping down a British armed force’s ration pack, down to the good stuff, and binning the crap!