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Hell and Back Again


What does it mean to lead men in war? What does it mean to come home - injured physically and psychologically - and build a life anew? HELL AND BACK AGAIN is a cinematically revolutionary film that asks and answers these questions with a power and intimacy no previous film about the conflict in Afghanistan has been able to achieve.

In this groundbreaking work of cinema, two overlapping narratives are brilliantly intercut — the life of a Marine at war on the front, and the life of the same Marine in recovery at home — creating both a dreamlike quality and a strikingly realistic depiction of how Marines experience this war.

The story follows the US Marines Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, as they launch a major assault on a Taliban stronghold in Southern Afghanistan. Within hours of being dropped deep behind enemy lines, Sergeant Nathan Harris’s unit is attacked from all sides. Cut off and surrounded, the Marines fight a ghostlike enemy and experience immense hostility from displaced villagers. Frustration grows on both sides, as any common ground, or success, seems elusive.

The parallel story begins with Sergeant Harris’s return home to his wife in the US, after he is severely injured. He’s in terrible physical pain, and becomes addicted to his pain medication. But his psychological pain may be worse, as he attempts to reconcile the immense gulf between his experiences at war, and the terrifying normalcy of life at home. These two stories intertwine to communicate both the extraordinary drama of war and the no less shocking experience of returning home, as a whole generation of Marines struggles to find an identity in a country that prefers to be indifferent.


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The Filmmakers

Danfung Dennis Director

Since 2006, Danfung Dennis has covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His still photographs have been published in Newsweek, TIME, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Rolling Stone, Le Figaro Magazine, Financial Times Magazine, Mother Jones, Der Spiegel, and The Wall Street Journal. PBS's Frontline opened its 2009 fall feature program, OBAMA’S WAR using Danfung Dennis’s footage. The immersive nature of the footage prompted a flurry of comment and inquiry from the Pentagon, the White House, veterans groups, viewers and the program was nominated for a 2010 Emmy Award.

In 2010, Danfung Dennis won the Bayeux-Calvados Award For War Correspondents, was named one of the 25 New Faces of Independent Film by Filmmaker Magazine and one of the 30 New and Emerging Photographers by PDN Magazine.

Danfung Dennis directed and filmed his first feature-length documentary on the war in Afghanistan, HELL AND BACK AGAIN and is the founder of an immersive video startup Condition ONE. His background is in Applied Economics and Business Management. Before working as a photojournalist and filmmaker, he consulted small and medium-sized enterprises in Uganda and South Africa.

Festivals & Awards

Academy Awards


Nominee - Best Documentary Feature

Sundance Film Festival


Winner - Grand Jury Prize

Winner - Cinematography Prize

IDA Awards


Winner - Jacqueline Donnet Emerging Filmmaker Award

Cinema Eye Honors


Winner - Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography

Nominee - Oustanding Achievement in Production, Best Debut Feature

Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism


Winner - Alfred I. duPont Award

Camden International Film Festival


Winner - Harrell Award for Best Documentary

Gotham Independent Film Awards


Nominee - Best Documentary

Film Independent Spirit Awards


Nominee - Truer than Fiction Award


A tour de force...HELL AND BACK AGAIN stacks one astonishing shot atop the next: perfectly composed tracking sequences in the heat of battle; saturated moody low-light compositions in rainy North Carolina parking lots; gorgeous rich soundscapes.”

-The New York Times

Artistic reach meets hypnotic intimacy in Danfung Dennis' vital war documentary 'Hell and Back Again'...a full-circle portrait of rare psychological immediacy and even rarer aesthetic command.”

-Los Angeles Times

CRITICS' PICK. A unique approach to depicting both the front lines and the home front. A fine addition.”

-New York Magazine

Ballsy-as-hell...a rich visual juxtaposition between the dust and dirt and colorful fabrics of Afghanistan and the cold, shiny surfaces of the America...a game-changer, with its no-holds barred determination to take the viewer into combat and into the very consciousness of a soldier.”

-Filmmaker Magazine

Top 10 Films of 2011: Director and photographer Danfung Dennis has crafted a documentary about the war in Afghanistan with the mesmerizing, dreamlike artistry of a feature film.”

-Associated Press

Stunning...An essential documentary that deploys a boldly cinematic arsenal.”

-Village Voice

4 STARS. Terrific!...Clear-eyed and empathetic...An illuminating on-the-ground approach.”

-Time Out New York

A lyrical and humane film in the finest documentary tradition, which honors its subjects by telling their story with great dignity and painful clarity and leaving judgment to history.”