The documentary about celebrated photojournalist Chris Hondros, who was killed in a mortar attack while on assignment in Libya in 2011, screened at the United Nations headquarters in New York last Friday, with an array of ambassadors and other officials on hand. The screening happened as part of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, a UN-coordinated effort to increase awareness of the hundreds of journalists killed around the world in recent years in the performance of their duties.
“It was a beautiful event,” says Hondros executive producer Riva Marker, who introduced the film to dignitaries and invited guests. “It was a room full of people who understand the importance of journalism. You could feel everybody was moved at the end of it.”
Hondros was directed by Greg Campbell, a journalist and close friend of the photographer’s. The film shows the courage and humanity Hondros brought to documenting conflict in Liberia, Kosovo, Iraq and other global war zones—work that twice made him a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His photographs depicted the chaos and carnage of war, and sensitively portrayed innocent victims ensnared in the mayhem.
“Chris Hondros was a fearless photographer and the world owes him and all the journalists and photographers a great debt,” said Byron Allen, Founder/Chairman/CEO of Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures, which released the documentary theatrically, followed by an online release through the company’s digital arm, Freestyle Digital Media. Allen added, “Hondros is a powerful film that gives these horrible conflicts the focus needed to properly address and hopefully avoid these negative events.”
Nine Stories, the production company founded by Marker and Jake Gyllenhaal, produced the film after being approached with the idea by Jamie Lee Curtis, an admirer of Hondros’ work.
“To Jamie this movie, and I agree, is all about the catastrophe of war, what war actually does to people on the ground,” Marker tells Deadline. “The result is that children are orphaned and people are psychologically damaged in ways they can never recover from.”
Stories of war, corruption, and official misconduct would not register with the public without the efforts of journalists like Hondros, an undertaking that carries enormous risk. According to UNESCO, the UN agency whose mandate includes advocating for freedom of the press, more than a thousand journalists were killed in the line of duty between 2006-2017. Many were deliberately targeted to silence their reporting.
“In nine out of ten cases the killers go unpunished,” UNESCO notes. “Attacks on media professionals are often perpetrated in non-conflict situations by organized crime groups, militia, security personnel, and even local police.”
The stakes were underscored Friday by Ambassador Maria Theofili, Permanent Representative of Greece to the United Nations. “Free journalism forms an integral part of free societies,” she reminded the UN gathering. “We truly believe that the international community as a whole has a duty to safeguard freedom of expression by protecting journalists.”
That sentiment was echoed in a video statement recorded by UN Secretary-General António Guterres to mark the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists. “On this day,” he said, “I pay tribute to journalists who do their jobs every day despite intimidation and threats.”
To focus world attention on the dangers facing journalists, UNESCO has launched a campaign under the hashtag TruthNeverDies, which includes a website profiling journalists killed for doing their work. Among those featured is Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist who wrote for the Washington Post and other outlets. He was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey last month, in what Saudi Arabia has admitted was a premeditated act.
The UNESCO campaign comes at a time when news outlets in the U.S. face vocal hostility from President Trump, who has repeatedly branded “fake news media” as the “true enemy of the people.” The Hondros documentary was in development well before Trump took office, but Marker believes it’s especially relevant in the current atmosphere.
“That what Chris was doing is being more and more challenged as each day goes by under this presidency is shocking,” Marker comments. She sees journalists like Hondros not as enemies of the people but as pursuers of truth.
“I don’t know how many more people we’re going to find like Chris going into the vocation of photojournalism because it is so dangerous now,” she observes. “There’s no protection and there’s nothing in place to make one feel safe doing it. You have to be so brave, so courageous to do it.”