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Korengal releasing in Knoxville theaters on July 11

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Second Platoon Soldiers on patrol near table rock. Image by Outpost Films.

KNOXVILLE — KORENGAL, a film by Sebastian Junger, will be released in Knoxville theaters on July 11, 2014.

Running Time: 84 minutes
Rating: Rated R

KORENGAL picks up where RESTREPO left off; the same men, the same valley, the same commanders, but a very different look at the experience of war. KORENGAL explains how war works, what it feels like and what it does to the young men who fight it. As one soldier cheers when he kills an enemy fighter, another looks into the camera and asks if God will ever forgive him for all of the killing he has done. As one soldier grieves the loss of his friend in combat, another explains why he misses the war now that his deployment has ended and admits he would go back to the front line in a heartbeat. Every bit as intense and affecting as RESTREPO, KORENGAL goes a step further in bringing the war into people’s living rooms back home.

To the men of Battle Company, 2/503
Six years ago, you welcomed my colleague, Tim Hetherington, and me onto your bases in the Korengal Valley. We spent a year, off and on, at the KOP and at Restrepo; we went on innumerable patrols and were in countless TICs. You helped us keep safe and you answered our questions and mostly, you gave us your friendship and your trust...and the result was our film, RESTREPO. We wanted to make a completely non-political film that would help civilians back home understand what you were doing for them, and we could not have done it without you guys.

Tim and I had always envisioned this film project to unfold in two parts. The world has seen the first part of this work, RESTREPO. But when Tim was tragically killed covering the civil war in Libya two years ago, I was left on my own to finish the project. I enlisted the other two members of our old RESTREPO team and we went back to work. The result was KORENGAL, which together with RESTREPO completes our vision – though unfortunately without Tim in the editing room. As with RESTREPO, we paid for the entire production ourselves, which gave us complete control of what the film would be. RESTREPO was intended to be a way for civilians to experience what combat feels like. We wanted KORENGAL to be very different. This film strives to impart understanding of the inner psychology of the soldier, rather than the experience on the battlefield. How does fear work? What do courage and guilt mean? What is it like to come home from war? Why do so many soldiers miss the war they were in?

I think that many of the questions that you have been asked by civilians over the years are answered in this film. I’m incredibly proud of it; it truly does pick up where RESTREPO left off, completing it. I hope you get a chance to see it, I hope you like it and - above all - I hope you are doing well out there in the world. If you come through New York, please let me know. And if you would like to help bring attention to this film when it comes out in June, we would be thrilled to have you on the team.

Best wishes – Sebastian

From May 2007 to July 2008, Battle Company of the 173rd Airborne Brigade was stationed in the remote Korengal Valley of eastern Afghanistan – considered one of the most dangerous postings of the war. The soldiers of Second Platoon built and manned a remote and strategic outpost that they named “Restrepo,” in honor of their medic, PFC Juan Restrepo, who was killed in action. This is their story, in their words, of a group of men who came to be considered the “tip of the spear” for American efforts in that area.

In the past decade, the Korengal Valley – a rugged valley six miles long near the border with Pakistan – has become an epicenter of the US war in Afghanistan. It was considered to be a crucial relay point for Taliban fighters moving from Pakistan toward Kabul, and several top Al Qaeda leaders were thought to have used it as a base of operations. In 2005, Taliban fighters cornered a four-man Navy SEAL team in the Korengal and killed three of them, then shot down a helicopter that was sent to save them. All 16 American commandos on board died. By the end of 2007, almost one-fifth of all the combat in Afghanistan was taking place in the Korengal. The fighting was on foot and it was deadly, and the zone of American control moved hilltop by hilltop, ridge by ridge, a hundred yards at a time. There was literally no safe place in the Korengal; men have been shot while asleep in their barracks. To date, close to 50 American soldiers have lost their lives there.

Starting in June 2007, Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger dug in with the men of Second Platoon, making a total of ten trips to the Korengal on assignment for Vanity Fair and ABC News. Each trip started with a helicopter flight into the main firebase in the valley and then a two-hour foot patrol out to Restrepo. There was no running water at Restrepo, no internet, no phone communication and, for a while, there was no electricity or heat; it was essentially just sandbags and ammo. Some days the outpost was attacked three or four times from distances as close as 50 yards. Hetherington and Junger – sometimes working together, sometimes alone – did everything the soldiers did except pull guard duty and shoot back during firefights. They slept alongside the soldiers, ate with them, survived the boredom and the heat and the cold and the flies with them, went on patrol with them and eventually came to be considered virtually part of the platoon. By the end of the deployment, they had shot a total of 150 hours of combat, boredom, humor, terror and daily life at the outpost.

Conditions for filmmaking couldn’t have been harsher. The surrounding mountains rose to a height of 10,000 feet – all of which was traversed on foot. Long operations meant carrying enough camera batteries to last a week or more, on top of the 50 or so pounds of gear required on even ordinary patrols. Cameras got smashed into rocks, clogged with dirt and hit with shell cartridges during firefights. Men were killed and wounded during filming, so there was a constant issue of when it was OK to turn on the cameras and when it was not. Only the filmmakers’ close relationship to the men of the platoon allowed them to keep shooting in situations where other journalists might have been told to stop.

Three months after the end of the deployment, Hetherington and Junger traveled to Vicenza, Italy, where the unit is based. They used two Veri-Cams, a full light and sound package and two cameramen to conduct in-depth interviews with their main characters. These interviews – initially considered a kind of glue for the verité, and a way to avoid outside narration – wound up being some of the most powerful and affecting material of the entire project. The soldiers were able to allow themselves a level of emotion and introspection that is simply not possible in combat.

While Junger and Hetherington were finishing work on their Academy Award®-nominated documentary RESTREPO, they envisioned a second film utilizing unused, never-before-seen footage they shot in Afghanistan and on the base in Italy, and making a Part II to the film somewhere down the road. Their idea was to center the film on the same soldiers in RESTREPO, but to approach their experience from a totally flipped perspective, and to explore new ideas and themes, completing their body of work about the men of Battle Company 2/503.

Unfortunately, Tim Hetherington was killed in Libya in April 2011, and they never got to make that film together. Junger went on to direct Which Way Is the Front Line From Here? The Life And Time Of Tim Hetherington for HBO, and once he was finished with that project he decided to go back to the footage that he and Tim had shot in Afghanistan and make the movie they had envisioned a few years earlier.

Instead of setting up the project with a distributor or broadcaster, Junger decided the only way to make the film he wanted to make was to do it independently.

After months of editing with Michael Levine (who was also the editor on RESTREPO), Junger was again faced with the decision of whether to show the film to distributors and broadcasters and sell his film, or whether to continue down the path he had started and release the film by himself. Ultimately, Junger chose to take the independent route and release KORENGAL on his own, and has since raised the funds through a highly successful Kickstarter campaign with Saboteur Media.

KORENGAL is a Saboteur Media presentation; a Battle Films production in association with Goldcrest Films and Outpost Films; directed by Sebastian Junger; produced by Nick Quested and Sebastian Junger; field photography by Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger; edited by Michael Levine; original music by Marty Beller; co-produced by Gretchen McGowan.

In 2008, when the film was shot, the United States had 48,250 military personnel deployed in Afghanistan. Of this number, 37,700 were active duty and 10,550 were National Guard and Reserves. Troop levels reached a high during the surge in 2011, with 101,000 US service members combined with 39,000 NATO troops, bringing the total number deployed to Afghanistan to 140,000.

The number of troops in Afghanistan has been reduced with each successive year. As of January 1, 2014, there were 38,000 US troops in Afghanistan. Currently, there is much debate about whether or not to reduce the number of troops to less than 10,000. Recently, elections were held in Afghanistan to replace long-term president Hamid Karzai. Almost seven million voters turned out, 36 percent of whom were women. While turnout was high, there was no single winner, with two candidates earning two million votes a piece but failing to earn the 50 percent plus one vote majority needed. A run off has been scheduled during the "fighting season" for June 7 between Abdullah Abdullah, tied to the former Northern Alliance, and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, former Finance Minister and Chancellor of Kabul University.

Sebastian Junger, Director/Producer

New York-based writer and journalist Sebastian Junger first ventured into film with the documentary RESTREPO, which he shot and directed with colleague Tim Hetherington. RESTREPO chronicles one year at an American combat outpost in eastern Afghanistan; the film won the 2010 Sundance Grand Jury Prize for best documentary and was also nominated for an Oscar® and an Independent Spirit Award. Junger ’s accompanying book, War, spent over a month on the New York Times bestseller list. Junger’s next film, Which Way Is the Front Line From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington, was a moving portrait of the acclaimed war photographer and his RESTREPO co-director that premiered on HBO and was nominated for a PGA award and was short-listed for an Oscar® in the Best Documentary Feature category. Junger’s books include The Perfect Storm, Fire and A Death in Belmont. Junger first reported from Afghanistan in 1996 and, four years later, was one of the last Westerners to accompany legendary guerrilla fighter Ahmed Shah Massoud during his war against the Taliban. Junger has reported for Vanity Fair, where he is a contributing editor, from many war zones across the world: he was trapped in Monrovia during the Liberian civil war in 2003, caught in Sierra Leone during the civil war of 2000 and very briefly held by “oil rebels” in the Niger Delta in 2006. His October 1999 article in Vanity Fair, “The Forensics of War,” won a National Magazine Award for Reporting. Junger’s next project as a director is The Last Patrol, which is set to premiere at the end of 2014 on HBO.

Nick Quested, Producer
Nick Quested is executive director of Goldcrest Films, which has been key to the financing of projects such as Twilight, Tropic Thunder, Eagle Eye, Revolutionary Road and 2012’s Academy Award®-winning The Iron Lady. Nick was the producer of Elvis & Anabelle (2007), which was directed by Will Geiger and starred Blake Lively and Max Minghella. His credits as an executive producer include The Winning Season (starring Sam Rockwell and Emma Roberts, 2009), RESTREPO (Sundance Grand Jury Documentary Winner and Oscar® nominee, 2010), The Art of Getting By (Sundance Narrative Selection 2011, starring Emma Roberts and Freddie Highmore), On the Ice (Berlin Film Festival Crystal Bear Generation 14Plus and Best First Feature Winner, 2011), Cheerful Weather for the Wedding (starring Felicity Jones and Elizabeth McGovern, 2012), The Girl (starring Abbie Cornish, 2011) and Dark Horse (starring Christopher Walken and Mia Farrow, 2011). Quested is currently directing Sing Sing, a documentary about the theatre program in Sing Sing Prison.

Gretchen McGowan, Co-Producer
Gretchen McGowan is currently producing a slate of three to four films each year as Head of Production for Goldcrest Features. Recent projects include the Fox Searchlight release The Art of Getting By, David Riker’s The Girl, and Todd Solondz’s Dark Horse. She oversaw the production of the Oscar®-nominated RESTREPO and produced Sebastian Junger’s follow-up Which Way Is the Front Line From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington. Upcoming films include Bill Monahan’s Mojave (starring Oscar Isaac and Garrett Hedlund), Todd Haynes’ Carol (starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara) and Autopsy of Jane Doe (starring Martin Sheen). Prior to joining Goldcrest, she oversaw and produced over 25 films as Head of Production for HDNet Films, Open City Films, Blow Up Pictures and as an independent producer. Titles include Zoe Cassavetes’ Broken English (2007), Brian De Palma’s Redacted (2007), Alex Gibney’s Enron: The Smartest Guys In the Room (2005), Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes (2003) and Mary Harron’s American Psycho (2000).

Michael Levine, Editor
Michael Levine received an Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Editing for the Oscar®- nominated documentary RESTREPO, directed by Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington. Currently, Levine is finishing Junger’s The Last Patrol. Previously, he edited Ken and Sarah Burns' Central Park Five, which screened at the Cannes, Telluride and Toronto film festivals. He was also the editor on such critically acclaimed films as Liz Garbus’ Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011), Bennett Miller ’s The Cruise (1998), Amir Bar-Lev’s My Kid Could Paint That (2007), Jennifer Venditti’s Billy the Kid (2007), Vincent Fremont and Shelly Dunn Fremont’s Pie In the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story (2000) and Ken Burns' Baseball (1994).

Marty Beller, Music
Marty Beller is the drummer for They Might Be Giants and received a Grammy Award in 2009 for his work on the band’s album, Here Come the 123s. Beller is a composer for the Fox drama Gracepoint (Broadcast Fall 2014), Season 3 of In Treatment (HBO), The Last Patrol (Dir. Sebastian Junger/HBO 2014), The Cruise (Dir. Bennett Miller/Emmy Award), Emptying the Skies (Dir. Doug and Roger Kass, Prod. Jonathan Franzen), Biography of Groucho Marx (A&E), the iRead, Math 180 and Expert21 series (Scholastic), Manhunters (A&E) and Dominick Dunne’s Power, Privilege and Justice (CourtTV), among many others. Beller was a nominee for the 2013 Bessie Awards.

Major Dan Kearney is currently serving in the US Army. An Army brat, he grew up mostly in Carlisle, PA, and Columbus, GA. He is currently the Operations Officer for the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment at Fort Stewart, GA. Sergeant Major LaMonta Caldwell, from Monroe, LA, is currently serving in the US Army as the G3 Sergeant Major for the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, NC.

Santana Rueda left the US Army in 2013 as a staff sergeant and joined the California Army National Guard. He lives in Southern California and plans on attending college.

Jason Mace left the US Army in 2010 as a sergeant. An Army brat who grew up in various cities, he currently resides in Colorado with his wife and kids.

Tad Donoho, Jr. left the US Army in 2013 as a sergeant and returned to his native Redding, CA. He attends community college, plays baseball and plans on studying political science.

Aron Hijar left the US Army in 2011 as a sergeant. He graduated from community college and now lives and works in New York. Sergeant First Class Josh McDonough is currently serving in the US Army. A native of Orcutt, CA, he lives at Fort Benning while he serves in the 75th Ranger Regiment.

Master Sergeant Mark Patterson is currently serving in the US Army as an instructor at the University of Akron ROTC program. Miguel Cortez left the US Army as a sergeant and lives with his wife and children near Cincinnati, OH. Michael Cunningham left the US Army in 2013 as a sergeant. A native of Belfast, ME, he currently lives in Austin, TX. Michael has found the transition to be difficult, and is trying to make a career change and start a movement to help veterans in their communities.

Misha Pemble Belkin is currently serving in the US Army.

Brendan O'Byrne left the US Army in 2008 as a sergeant. The Milford, PA, native now lives in Provincetown, MA, where he works as an arborist. He also sculpts and speaks about veterans’ issues and the challenge of transition. Steve Kim left the US Army in 2010 as a sergeant. The Burbank, CA, native now lives in Los Angeles, where he goes to school and works for the family business.

David Old left the US Army in 2012 as a sergeant. A native of Virginia Beach, VA, David now lives in Southern California, where he attends nursing school.

Published July 8, 2014

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