The film opens in 1993 with King in Sarajevo. He's too broke to stay at the hotel where most of the other journalists are staying and he was caught at least once trying to pick up a free meal. His primary sustenance is accepting handouts from homeless shelters in the area.
Other journalists dismiss him outright; his naivety is pointed out at every turn. One warns him off from wearing military pants because it can make all the difference at check points. A solider tells him that his white shirt makes an excellent target. And yet another says he doesn't have the right aura or even enough luck to make it.
After four months in Sarajevo, he only earns $400 despite landing his first front page, a photograph of prostitutes. The same shot also earns him his sternest story. He's told that he doesn't know who he's dealing with when he takes pictures of prostitutes.
Another conflict proves him to be another kind of professional.
From Sarajevo to Chechnya, King undergoes a transformation. When most of the press corps is pulled out after the conflict seemed to be over, King stayed behind and became one of the few to cover the rebel counter-offensive. His work immediately became internationally acclaimed.
As King continues his transformation, the story brings in more details of his life. He is sometimes entertaining but also complex. King becomes aware that the pain he experienced was with him throughout his life, and running toward world conflicts was his flight from his own difficult childhood.
At one point in the film, he says chasing the conflict of war helped him put off his own internal conflict and tendency toward addiction. But that's not to say he avoided all temptation. While following the story in Chechnya, he fully engaged in the seedy nightlife offered up by a changing Russia.
He never had a need to brood in his rooms for days or weeks to find art. He wanted to be part of it all: go to a war, go to a bar, get laid, get drunk. Journalism, he says, was rehab from hell.
Unfortunately for King, however, Afghanistan also left him more cynical. Unable to embed himself into the population like he had done during several other conflicts, being embedded with troops limited his perspective and often any access to events until the military could sterilize it.
Along with such restrictions, it wasn't uncommon for mobs to suddenly turn on photographers and kill them. For a journalist, the proposition seemed even more frightening than the stray bullets that sometimes left him shaken during his first foray.
A brief about producers Richard Parry and Vaughan Smith.
One of the most striking elements of the documentary is that Richard Parry and Vaughan Smith never anticipated making a film. They were working just like King — freelancers who were trying to make a buck, see the world, and stay alive. (Parry and Smith arrived in Yugoslavia a year before King.)
One even wonders about Parry and Smith too. Although they are not the subjects of their own film (despite Smith appearing in it at times), it's important to note that they are frontline videographers too. In fact, since they started, they have lost eight cameramen at their agency Frontline News.
Shooting Robert King Fires Up 7.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.
The documentary is wildly engaging and beautifully edited to show a sympathetic portrait of a war correspondent and conflict photographer. It is an interesting and little understood perspective, bringing in some additional commentary from King at home in Tennessee; most of it while he hunts from a blind, which was the reason for the original title Blood Trail.
Although the documentary originally appeared in 2008 and the DVD in 2010, Shooting Robert King recently made its electronic debut on iTunes. The new edition is also available on iTunes. Barnes & Noble still lists it as Blood Trail. Some of King's most recent work can be found at Polaris and you can find some more information on the film's website.