Elo Company’s “You Are Not a Soldier,” which had its world premiere this week in Hot Docs’ Systems Down sidebar, is not just an ode to survival. It is also about coping with grief, about parenthood and the horrors of war. For Brazilian docu filmmaker, Maria Carolina Telles, it was by delving into war photojournalist Andres Liohn’s forays into the frontlines of the wars in Libya and Iraq that she sought to find answers to her late father’s obsession with war. Variety has been given access to an exclusive clip to the film.
Telles’ father, a first lieutenant in Brazil’s expeditionary forces, had been frustrated because World War II ended before he could join the allies in the battlefield. “I couldn’t understand why, being a woman, why he wanted to be in a war zone,” she says.
“During his last days, which was a very intense period, I had a chance to show my father some of Liohn’s footage,” she recalls, adding. “I showed him how fortunate he was to avoid all the blood and the hate.”
Telles met Liohn, a Robert Capa Gold Medal awardee, more than a decade ago and their long-time friendship made him entrust her with the hard drive to his computer where she accessed extraordinary footage, including harrowing never-before-seen images of the Iraqi town of Mosul after local forces had recaptured it from ISIS.
Working with co-director and screenwriter Aleksei Abib, she found tender footage of Liohn and his children, which she realized was the heart of the documentary, her feature debut. “It was hard to convince him to allow me to use them but he relented in the end,” she says.
In one sequence in the film, you see Liohn’s children distraught and confused about his leaving them to go to the frontlines. Telles saw parallels with how she felt about her father, who had her at age 50. “I was afraid of him dying at any moment,” she says. Through these scenes of Liohn and his children, she brings home her point about the impact of war on the families left behind. War is also hell for those not on the frontlines.
It took Telles and Abib some two years to piece together the film, from raising the financing to its post-production. Telles, who is a journalist, director and showrunner for non-fiction series, is currently researching themes on environmental issues. Liohn is now covering another battlefield, the COVID-19 pandemic that is ripping across Brazil.
“You Are Not a Soldier” will stream on the Hot Docs website until Sunday.