Online conflict reporting hits the big screen

Pioneering solo journalist Kevin Sites screens his film about the civilian cost of war

By Vincent Lim
AsiaMedia Contributing Writer

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Kevin Sites says that the American media rarely focuses on the civilian costs of wars around the world. He underlined the importance of these stories at screening of his documentary film, dedicated to civilian victims of war in countries like Somalia, at the University of California, Los Angeles on Friday.

Sites (left) told the audience that Yahoo! News' online multimedia project, Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone, was a way to encourage more Americans to learn about things that are happening in the rest of the world. In A World of Conflict, a film that takes the Hot Zone from the computer screen to the big screen, Sites argues that war is about the destruction of civilizations and civilians.

The Hot Zone's journey began late in the summer of 2004 when Yahoo! News hired the veteran war reporter and allowed him to do what many media organizations would have never allowed him to do.

"Most news organizations, if I told them I wanted to cover every conflict zone in the world, would have laughed me out of their newsroom," Sites said during a question-and-answer session after the screening.

The Hot Zone remains Yahoo!'s only serious attempt at producing original news content to date.

Over the course of a year, Sites attempted to file stories, images and video about people living in every war zone in the world. He started with the anarchy of Somalia in September 2005 and finished with the explosive war between Israel and Hezbollah in the summer of 2006.

Jeff Porter, the director of A World Conflict, said it was gratifying making a documentary film that educated people about the world and consequences of conflict.

Before the Hot Zone, Sites worked as a network-news cameraman and award-winning blogger. In Nov. 2004, as an NBC News correspondent, he videotaped a U.S. marine shooting a wounded Iraqi insurgent in a Falluja mosque, a story that became one of the most controversial of the current Iraq war.

The film was presented by AsiaMedia and sponsored by the UCLA International Institute, Latin American Center, African Studies Center and Asia Institute.

Asia in conflict

Among Sites' coverage areas in Asia was the ongoing conflict between India and Pakistan in the disputed territory of Kashmir. In early June 2006, he captured video footage of family members of tourists who were killed when an explosive was hurled into the bus they were traveling on. He also showed images of the bodies of the victims. The four people who died that day were all between 8 and 18 years old.

"It's hard to keep the camera turned away," Sites said in the film. "I want people to see the real face of war."

Although he never intended to travel to Kashmir, one of his three producers at his home base in Yahoo!'s Santa Monica office convinced him to go. Sites said during the question-and-answer session that Kashmir turned out to be a very moving story.

With Dinesh Wagle, an AsiaMedia contributor and Kantipur reporter, as his guide, Sites also covered the coup in Nepal during of weeks of intense protests that would ultimately forced Nepalese ruler King Gyanendra to step down from power. In his film, Sites focused on the story of a 16-year-old female Maoist army solider who said she was not afraid to die. The King justified his decision to install himself as absolute ruler of Nepal on Feb. 1, 2005 by claiming that the Maoist insurgency forced him to take full control of the country to restore peace and stability.

During the course of his year, Sites also covered the long civil war in Sri Lanka, the legacy of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the lasting impact of the Vietnam War, and the refugees and rebellion in Myanmar.