Director: Orlando von Einsiedel
One of the defining characteristics of warfare since the early twentieth century has been the expansion of the field of combat to include civilian targets. Orlando von Einsiedel’s 2019 film Into the Fire which premiered at the Telluride Film Festival, has been made freely available on the National Geographic YouTube channel as part of a selection of Nobel Peace Prize Shorts. It looks at the long effect of modern combat as the leader of an all-female mine-disposal team discusses her role and the painful history of her region in the last four years.
The audience is first introduced to Hana Khider as a mother and wife, eating dinner with her husband and three young children while discussing their plans for the next day. But Hana’s day job takes her through the devasted landscape of Iraq as part of the Mines Advisory Group, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in coalition in 1997. At just 23-minutes, there is a lot of information in this short film, covering the process of detection and destruction of leftover incendiary devices, as well as the very human stories of conflict and suffering for local populations.
Once the film establishes the extraordinary position of Hana and her colleagues trying to balance everyday family life with a high-pressured job, director von Einsiedel focuses at first on damaged buildings, piles of rubble and debris and mounds of bombs extracted from craters as Hana explains how whole towns were destroyed by ISIS, her incredulity evident even through her professional demeanour.
As well as the widespread devastation, some of Director of Photography Jaime Ackroyd’s most striking images are of young children learning in an educational outreach programme to local families about the dangers of toys and everyday objects that may have been booby trapped. They cannot play alone one father insists before noting his own experience of a nephew killed by a mine and another permanently maimed by undiscovered devices.
When Einsiedel turns his attention to the process of detection and safe detonation, the film remains calm and business-like, no Hollywood drama or ratcheting tension. Instead we are shown a diligent team, working methodically with metal detectors, spray paint and flagged sections of soil while working to uncover the many thousands of devices still embedded in the landscape of Iraq – 27,000 have been extracted by the Mines Advisory Group since 2016.
The lack of sensationalism somehow makes this more compelling as Hana unceremoniously radios back to her team from a safe distance when a new device is being detonated before they sit down to eat together, a “second family” that mirrors dinner with her first. Einsiedel draws a direct line between Hana’s calm management of this highly dangerous work and her interactions with her family, and while she is presented as stoical in her approach (unlike her gung-ho fictional counterparts), she is never detached from the conflict that caused it.
For a hundred years now, civilians – particularly women and children – have experienced the long after-effects of combat. And while, as Hana states, ISIS may have believed women were only capable of cooking and cleaning or being subjected to sexual and violent attacks, Into the Fire is a brief but fascinating insight into a group of highly skilled women trying to clean up its mess.