Hell and Back Again

What does it mean to lead men in war? What does it mean to come home — injured physically and psychologically — and build a life anew?

Hell and back again 01
Series
Independent Lens
Premiere Date
May 28, 2012
Length
90 minutes
  • Nominated laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2012 Academy Awards-Best Documentary Feature
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2012 duPont Awards -Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award
  • Nominated laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2012 The Grierson Trust-Best Documentary on a Contemporary Theme-International
  • Nominated laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2012 News and Documentary Emmy Awards-Best Documentary
  • Director/Producer

    Danfung Dennis

    Since 2006, Danfung Dennis has covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His still photographs have been published in Newsweek, TIME, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Rolling Stone, Le Figaro Magazine, Financial Times Magazine, Mother Jones, Der Spiegel, and The Wall Street Journal. PBS's Frontline opened its 2009 fall feature Show more program Obama's War using Dennis's footage. The immersive nature of the footage prompted a flurry of comment and inquiry from the Pentagon, the White House, veterans groups, and viewers and the program was nominated for a 2010 Emmy Award. In 2010, Dennis won the Bayeux-Calvados Award For War Correspondents, was named one of the 25 New Faces of Independent Film by Filmmaker Magazine and one of the 30 New and Emerging Photographers by PDN Magazine. Dennis directed and filmed his first feature-length documentary on the war in Afghanistan, Hell and Back Again, and is the founder of the immersive video startup Condition ONE. His background is in applied economics and business management. Before working as a photojournalist and filmmaker, he consulted small and medium-sized enterprises in Uganda and South Africa. Show less

    Producer

    Mike Lerner

    Producer

    Martin Herring

    We fund untold stories for public media.

    Learn more about funding opportunities with ITVS.

    The Film

    What does it mean to lead men in war? What does it mean to come home — injured physically and psychologically — and build a life anew? In Hell and Back Again two overlapping narratives are intercut — the life of a Marine at war on the front, and the life of the same Marine in recovery at home — creating both a dreamlike quality and a strikingly realistic depiction of how Marines experience this war.

    The story follows the U.S. Marines Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, as they launch a major assault on a Taliban stronghold in Southern Afghanistan. Within hours of being dropped deep behind enemy lines, Sergeant Nathan Harris's unit is attacked from all sides. Cut off and surrounded, the Marines fight a ghostlike enemy and experience immense hostility from displaced villagers. Frustration grows on both sides, as any common ground, or success, seems elusive.

    The parallel story begins with Sergeant Harris's return home to his wife in the U.S., after he is severely injured. He's in terrible physical pain, and becomes addicted to his pain medication. But his psychological pain may be worse, as he attempts to reconcile the immense gulf between his experiences at war, and the terrifying normalcy of life at home. These two stories intertwine to communicate both the extraordinary drama of war and the no less shocking experience of returning home, as a whole generation of Marines struggles to find an identity in a country that prefers to be indifferent.

    Topics