Blood Trail: when “damaged goods” photograph damaged places

I interviewed filmmaker Richard Parry a few months ago while working on a realscreen story about war reporting. At the time, he mentioned that he was editing a film about ...
October 15, 2008

I interviewed filmmaker Richard Parry a few months ago while working on a realscreen story about war reporting. At the time, he mentioned that he was editing a film about a friend of his that he’d known for ages who’d also started visiting, and reporting from, war-torn countries as a young, eager man with a passion to see war up close and personal.

The resulting film is Blood Trail, which premiered at TIFF. Here’s a quickie synopsis of the film: Robert King is a war photographer from the States who covers battles on the ground (and often the front lines). In the film, which takes place over the course of 15 years and falls naturally into three acts as we see King snapping pictures in Bosnia, Chechnya and Baghdad, we learn what was going on in King’s mind during this time, and now.

Considering the emotions this film brings up — awe, disgust, despair — it’s a hard one to sum up. Instead, I’ll share a few of the most memorable moments from this powerful film for me:

  • Explaining why he wanted to photograph wars, King says he thought of himself as a “messenger put on Earth to convey a message of human suffering.”
  • In a light moment in the film (it’s all relative), a fellow war reporter advises King, who’s on his first trip to a war zone, against wearing the military-type pants he’s sporting.
  • In a later scene, King admits “The only thing I knew about war is what I saw on TV. The only thing I knew about war correspondents, I read in a book.”
  • In a reflective and heartbreaking moment, King says “Wars didn’t fuck me up; I was fucked up before I even went, and that’s why I was so good at it.” Later on, he comments “I’m not normal. I’m damaged goods.” (At this point during the screening I was weeping away…)
  • King’s wife Olga, a woman he met in Russia and now lives with in Tennessee with their son, expresses her thought’s on King’s profession: “How could you risk your own life to take pictures that people don’t want to see?”
  • When asked if he’ll be covering wars for another 15 years, King says “Why quit now? The whole world’s going to turn into complete chaos.”

So while I’ve revealed some content from the film, it does no justice to how rich and raw this documentary actually is. I recommend it to anyone who’s curious about the emotional toll war reporting takes on those who make their living in this honorable yet grueling profession. Rather than try to sex up the topic, the doc, which Parry coproduced with Vaughan Smith, is as harsh and unapologetic as the wars it covers.

About The Author
Andrew Tracy joined Realscreen as associate editor in 2021, following 17 years as managing editor of the award-winning international film magazine Cinema Scope. From 2010 to 2020 he also held the position of senior editor at the Toronto International Film Festival, where he oversaw the flagship publication for the organization’s year-round Cinematheque programming and edited its first original monograph in a decade, Steve Gravestock’s A History of Icelandic Film. He was a scriptwriter and consultant on the first season of the Vice TV series The Vice Guide to Film, and his writing and reporting have been featured in such outlets as Cinema Scope, Reverse Shot, Sight & Sound, Cineaste, Film Comment, MUBI Notebook, POV, and Montage.