You Are Not a Soldier: Docu on the Horrors of War

Hot Docs Title ‘You Are Not
Courtesy of Elo Company

You Are Not a Soldier, which had its world premiere in Hot Docs’ Systems Down, is an ode to survival, about coping with grief, about parenthood and the horrors of war.

Brazilian docu filmmaker Maria Carolina Telles delved into war photojournalist Andres Liohn’s forays into the frontlines of the wars in Libya and Iraq to find answer about her late father’s obsession with war.

Telles’ father, a first lieutenant in Brazil’s expeditionary forces, was 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 an intense period, I had chance to show my father some of Liohn’s footage. 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 friendship made him entrust her with the hard drive to his computer where she accessed 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 footage of Liohn and his children, which became 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.”

In one sequence, 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 bringsmher point about the impact of war on the families left behind.

It took Telles and Abib 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 covering another battlefield, the COVID-19 pandemic that is ripping across Brazil.