1980: Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk dodges gunfire in bombed-to-rubble streets on the frontline of the Iran-Iraq war. Cut to 2018, and Fisk, nearly 40 years older, hair a little thinner, glasses a little less clunky, is walking through almost identical ruined streets, this time in Homs, Syria. After a lifetime reporting on conflict, Fisk reflects on the capacity of human beings to cause chaos on such a scale. Is there something deep in our souls that permits it because it feels natural? His painful, deeply serious question about the inevitability of war sets the tone of this documentary about his career, directed by Yung Chang. Fisk is defiant against his critics, yet a kind of Graham Greene-like weariness seems to creep in at times. Later he admits: “Mostly I fear that what we write doesn’t make the slightest difference.”
As a boy, he dreamed of becoming a foreign correspondent; his parents were dead against it, though his dad softened when Fisk landed a job at the Times as its Northern Ireland correspondent during the Troubles – good training for the Middle East. He transferred to Beirut aged 29 and never left. Witnessing the aftermath of the massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982 forged him as a writer: “I’ve never seen so much death.” He parted company with the Times in 1988 to join the Independent after a fallout with Rupert Murdoch over editorial meddling.
Dressed in Marks & Spencer-style pullovers, he looks as if he would be more at home in a Kent garden centre than a war zone – but the sun-worn skin gives him away. Alongside that thoughtful interview and some skilfully edited archive material, the film follows Fisk as he sniffs out stories – following the paper trail of weapons found in Syria to Bosnia, reporting from Idlib and Palestine, and defending himself against criticism of his reporting of the chemical attack on the rebel-held Syrian town of Douma in 2018. He has never considered moving on. The Middle East is like a great novel, he says. You sit up reading till midnight, telling yourself, just one more chapter. “It’s a human tragedy. I can’t draw myself from seeing what happens next.”
Source: The Guardian