Runtime: 77 minutes
Director: Heather O’Neill
By Joan Amenn
The organization “Reporters Without Borders” states that 50 journalists were killed in their line of work in 2020, 84% of which were deliberately targeted. Although not a very large number, it is important to keep in mind that while journalism has inherent risks as a profession, journalists and their news crews are increasingly being attacked for the stories they are covering, rather than because they are in battle zones.
These facts loom large over the documentary “No Ordinary Life” (2021), as the careers of five incredible women photojournalists are shown by director Heather O’Neill. With Chistiane Amanpour as a moderator who provides context to the many adventures of this Band of Sisters, the film crackles with their energy, wit and dedication to their work. Focusing on the reporting of the CNN news organization of which Amanpour is Chief International Anchor, some of the footage is very hard to watch, so viewer be warned. However, this is an inspirational, if not often terrifying, salute to women who shattered the glass ceiling of major news coverage.
As is pointed out in the film, news often consists of one segment of humanity’s cruelty to another segment. These women have seen and captured with their cameras everything from guerrilla warfare to political protests to genocide. They have traveled the globe from Sarajevo to Somalia and everywhere they have thrust themselves into the dark heart of conflict and suffering. Their cameras have been smashed, stolen and slung on their shoulders as they have fled for their lives but they loved their work. It is very moving to hear them recount how they built a network of support for each other and looked out for each other.
However, they have for the most part retired from chasing after the next big story with one of them sadly passing away in 2010. We do not see any next generation of women taking their places which begs the question, has the recent violence targeted at journalists taken a toll? Has it become even harder for women to be hired as photojournalists now? Heather O’Neill offers no answers to these questions but gives us an astonishingly powerful argument for women to continue to get behind their tripods and tell their stories with this rousing film. It is a must see and fingers are crossed it will receive recognition at Tribeca.