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Michael Mann’s “Witness”


Earlier, this blog shared news of the forthcoming HBO documentary to be produced by Michael Mann: Witness.

It has now already screened in the US, and the first showing appeared in the UK on Sky Atlantic, 29 June.

The first episode is just 30 minutes long, but is a unique and highly aesthetic piece of filmmaking that follows Eros Hoagland, a young conflict photographer that “gravitates to South America” for his image hunting grounds – in this film it is the US/Mexico border city of Juarez. The documentary has a Mann feel to it, with plenty of night time action, flashing police lights, men with guns in streets and over the shoulder viewpoints, placing the audience in the heart of the scene. Strong music scores and carefully composed imagery, together with gritty realism make for compelling viewing. The end of “Juarez” is quite disturbing, with hundreds of onlookers watching a young armed criminal slowly die from a bullet wound to the torso as he pleads for help. The photographer and the crew following him both record him die what seems a slow and lonely death. What was confusing was that this scene was shot in broad, high sunlight surrounded by people, and yet the ambulance didn’t arrive to take away his dead body until nightfall. I would have liked this time gap to have been explained. But perhaps we were to draw our own conclusion.  The scene demonstrated the distance a photojournalist has to put between himself and the situation. He is just there to record – he can’t interfere with what happens, because he wouldn’t be there otherwise. It’s his sole job to record the event, and not to stop or judge it. It’s controversial when someone dies in front of you, and the film purposely plays on these themes.

In another scene, innocent youths are murdered and Eros arrives on the scene to find a crying mother, overcome with grief and shock. It was a scene reminiscent of Heat, where the mother is embraced by Al Pacino’s character, surrounded by police and news crews. In this instance, Eros Hoagland is rebuked for invading this deeply private and traumatic moment of a family in the aftermath of three deaths. In using the camera as a shield from the reality of what is happening, there is a final twist to this scene. Watch to find out.Juarez-boy

This is a series of documentaries that Michael Mann has obviously been closely involved with, displaying many of Mann’s traits. It’s a must watch. You can read an interview with Michael Mann on HBO’s dedicated website to the series.

They can all presently be watched online. How long for remains to be seen, as HBO probably won’t appreciate it being on YouTube before it’s run its course on the commercial channels here in the UK at the very least. So, if the YouTube links break above, don’t be surprised.



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