The film chronicles the life of Marie Colvin (Rosamund Pike), an American-born expat working in London as a war correspondent for The Sunday Times, who covered some of the deadliest conflicts in her insatiable desire to bear witness to the atrocities of war.
“It’s an homage to journalism,” said Heineman, an interview this morning at Deadline’s New York Contenders event. “That’s more important now than ever.”
The Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker said he strove to render a truthful and authentic account of Colvin’s life, which took her to conflict zones in Sri Lanka, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and Syria.
“I did not want to make a biopic, I wanted to make a psychological thriller, examining what pushes a person like that to go to dangerous places,” said Heineman.
A Private War, which is Heineman’s first narrative film, draws heavily on his roots in documentary film. Scenes throughout the film — including one in which Colvin uncovers a mass grave in Iraq — feature Iraqi refugees, whose wails of grief are drawn from their own painful experience.
Heineman said he spent weeks trying to find a man to portray a father, who carries his wounded son to the emergency room in Homs, Syria. He cast a refugee whose two-year-old son was shot by a sniper and bled out in front of him.
These decisions blurred the lines between narrative filmmaking and reality.
“For Rosamond, she almost couldn’t handle what was happening,” Heineman said.
The film explores the personal toll Colin paid for her years on the front lines, in pursuit of the human stories behind armed conflict. She suffered from PTSD and panic attacks for which she was hospitalized.
“It’s a very personal film for me. It’s something I’ve dealt with myself,” said Heineman. “It’s not often portrayed.”
A Private War is currently in release from Aviron.