Interview. Danger Zone

Director Vita Drygas and the protagonist of her documentary Danger Zone Andrew Drury, discuss warzone tourism and how the film became a journey of self-discovery.

Vita Drygas’ latest documentary, Danger Zone,focuses on an unknown branch of travelling: war tourism. It explores various conflicts from the perspective of normal “John Does”, who decide to visit dangerous countries in order to escape the monotonous side of their lives. Although a Polish production, it takes the audience to places including Somalia and Afghanistan.

Following the travellers’ paths, Drygas transports us to forbidden parts of the Earth. Drygas and Andrew Drury, one of the most experienced war tourists and the film’s main protagonist, talked to us at Warsaw Film Festival about their relationship, the process of directing Danger Zone and how making it became a journey of self-discovery for Drury.

Vita, what was your method of working in such a dangerous environment?

VD: In each warzone, you need to have a very small camera, so that’s what I did: I bought one. We had a lot of cinematographers, but we decided to maintain very small equipment. What is extremely important everywhere in warzones is not to grab attention. You are with a camera, so they must not know that you are filming, and it’s pretty difficult. For example, sometimes we played tourists, but there was a case when a certain person understood that we were not tourists and she told me that all the equipment would go to the Ministry of Censorship. And in Syria going there equals tremendous danger. Unfortunately, sometimes we just had to resign from a couple of ideas.

How did you build your trust? Was there any tipping point that changed the course of your relationship while working on Danger Zone?  

Andrew Drury: After the first conversations, I didn’t feel like I needed a movie about my hobby, which was war tourism. It wasn’t something that I wanted, so Vita needed to find a way to persuade me. Talking to her made me realise that there is something that drives me to go on those trips. The film actually became a therapeutic experience for me. During our talks, I recalled that I had a difficult life when I was young. Sadly, my brother passed away when he was only ten years old. He was only a year younger than me. That being said, I always felt a need to achieve something for my brother; I wanted to lead a second life for him.

Conversations with Vita allowed me to open up to her and, by this, the trust formed. I started treating her like a real family member and because of that, I felt I could tell her things that generally you’d only tell your family. She’s a great psychologist, so I had trust in what she would do with my character in her following film. Vita portrayed the truth without any false notes.

VD: Before Andrew saw Danger Zone, he didn’t want to watch the entire thing. Nevertheless, I was still trying to persuade him, so he would finally sit on his couch and give it a go.

What did you feel when you watched the film for the first time and you saw all of the close-ups of your family in distress? 

AD: In the film, it seemed like I was enjoying myself by being a war tourist. But Vita’s perspective helped me understand how dangerous it was. I never thought that there was a tangible scenario that I might die so stupidly. It’s very selfish for a person to leave your children at home, knowing that you might never come back. So it’s difficult to say goodbye to your kids. But equally, it’s also hard to say goodbye to the children that I met when I was away.

Without going, I wouldn’t have been able to help the hundreds of people I’ve supported. Let’s be honest: it’s a lot deeper than just saying goodbye to your children. And that image sticks with you. Sometimes in life, we do things because we need to do them. And every time I went to a country, which you wouldn’t see, a bit more of me would be left there.

This is a question I’m sure I’m going to get asked lots of times. Am I selfish? It depends: at least I can do everything in my power to show other viewers what the real world looks like. And through the media, now I can tell the story of somebody, whose suffering was depicted in the journey that I’ve taken.

Vita, you mentioned the editing, and Andrew shared his emotional story about his brother. But it wasn’t included in the documentary, while it would have helped the audience to see another side of him. How did you choose which parts to include from the collected footage?

VD: During the editing process, we were thinking about the construction of the movie, and how to tell all these stories, because it’s very difficult when you have so many hours, you have very different materials, and the people must see it only in two hours. You can’t have voiceover everywhere: it’s impossible. We wanted to put so much into our film, but at the same time, we were forced to decide the exact footage and resign from various elements. We spent all day and night in the editing room to get the final (and ideal) result. However, it was very challenging to cut out certain materials.

Are you still connected to the place and people you have met? Do you want to continue that relationship?

VD: Yes, we want to make some kind of a new charity with Andrew and other friends. In Danger Zone, you can spot this refugee camp with children. They have no water, or food and would probably die soon, so for us, the main and most important thing is to help them. Directing the film only for profit, especially in a situation like this, isn’t fair.

Jan Tracz and Giorgi Javakhishvili