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Oscar nominee “Hell and Back Again” debuts May 28 on PBS

Melissa Hayer Published: April 30, 2012
Nathan and Ashley Harris - Provided Photo
Nathan and Ashley Harris - Provided Photo


The film “Hell and Back Again,” which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary, is scheduled to premiere on PBS’ “Independent Lens” at 9 p.m., Memorial Day, Monday, May 28 (check local listings).

A summary and production credits for the movie, provided by PBS, are as follows:

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 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 after he is severely injured. He’s in terrible physical pain and becomes dependent on his pain medication. But his
psychological pain may be worse, as he attempts to reconcile the gulf between his experiences at war and the return to civilian life, one of a generation of veterans struggling to find an identity in a country that is often indifferent.

Nathan and Ashley Harris have shared their most intimate and painful moments for the film in order to illuminate what they, and thousands like them, are going through. Ashley’s role in
Nathan’s rehabilitation is testimony to what thousands of loved ones are experiencing: trying to maintain normalcy while picking up the pieces of the lives of the wounded warriors who return

Winner of the Sundance Film Festival Documentary Grand Jury Award and Cinematography Award, “Hell and Back Again” is Danfung Dennis’s first feature film and the first ever to be shot
entirely with a highly customized Canon 5D Mark II digital SLR camera rig. Despite widespread publication of Dennis’s pictures as a photojournalist for several international news outlets, he
found that he was unable to convey the brutal realities on the ground —  either the public was numb to these same images of war or traditional media outlets were not committed to coverage
of the conflicts. This drove Dennis to explore the medium of the moving image. Whereas before he was simply making pictures with movement, in “Hell and Back Again” he combines
photojournalism with the tradition and narrative structure of filmmaking.

“Hell and Back Again” is filmed and directed by Danfung Dennis and produced by Mike Lerner and Martin Herring. Executive producers are Dan Cogan, Karol Martesko-Fenster, Gernot
Schaffler, and Thomas Brunner. The film is edited by Fiona Otway, with music, sound design, and original song, “Hell and Back, ” by J. Ralph. “Hell and Back” is performed by Willie Nelson.
To learn more about the film, visit the “Hell and Back Again” interactive companion website (, which features detailed information on the
film, including an interview with the filmmaker and links and resources pertaining to the film’s subject matter. The site also features a Talkback section for viewers to share their ideas and
opinions, preview clips of the film, and more.

Follow me on Twitter: @MelissaHayer