TIFF19: This Is Not A Movie

Director Yung Chang sets his sights on Robert Fisk, a ground-breaking and game-changing longtime foreign correspondent. Reporting primarily from the Middle East, the documentary visits his old stomping grounds – Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, and revisits many of his old stories, some of which (many of which) are ongoing. Problems in the Middle East are a revolving door, and a journalist has to have fortitude and determination to keep reporting with the same urgency and integrity when the story seems unending.

Robert Fisk clearly has a lot of deeply held beliefs about a journalist’s integrity, and it is clear that his has been questioned many times over the years. He writes what he sees, whether or not it’s what readers back home want to hear. His angle isn’t always the popular one. He’s been called racist, he’s been called an anti-Semite. But to him, truth is truth, even if it’s uncomfortable.

He also talks about what it’s been like to be amidst armed conflict so many times – and certainly, he seems inured, wanting to stop and poke around even as local guides nervously caution him of the danger. Wars are notoriously “dodgy things to predict” he tells us, as he barrels straight in. But there are consequences to this bombardment. One’s sensitivity becomes anesthetized; emotions are suppressed in the name of objectivity.

He’s a bit of a dinosaur, no longer truly of this world, which has moved on a bit in his absence. He still clings to newsprint even if his own words are purely digital. He’s realistic about the story’s ceaselessness, but keeps a fresh eye because “I still want to see what’s next.” Even in the face of great human tragedy “I can’t draw myself away.”

In the age of social media and fake news, Fisk is perhaps the kind of dinosaur we need. A reminder of how important it is to seek and expose truth. His rule of thumb: be on the side of those who suffer. Challenge authority. Don’t look away.

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