Filmmaker says baring soul renews respect for journalism

By Jane Hawkes.

Mike WaltersWhen American journalist Mike Walter made a documentary about the emotional impact 9/11 had on him and how other journalists were affected by traumatic experiences on the job, some in the business called him a wimp. 

Walter says: “I kept asking why. Why did it happen to me? Why was I affected so deeply by what I saw? Why, why, why?”

Now that his film Breaking News Breaking Down has been screened in five countries, he’s less concerned about the reaction of the relatively small group of what he calls “grizzled” journos who told him he should have kept his troubles to himself. That’s because of the reactions of general audiences – those without ties to work involving high trauma. 

“It generally goes like this: ‘Wow I didn’t think about that. I have greater respect now for journalists and journalism,’” he says.

“That’s great news to me given the assault the industry has suffered because of the economic downturn. So many great journalists have found themselves out of work, as newspapers and broadcasters have shed employees. So I’m delighted that average filmgoers come away with renewed respect for the profession that I care so deeply about.”

In addition, Walter says, many journalists have told him they found the documentary “gave them permission” to finally talk more openly about their own emotional reactions on the job.  He wrote recently about that in an essay for The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard’s Nieman Reports.
The film had its Canadian debut in June 2009 at the Reel HeART Film Fest in Toronto (you can read the article Walter wrote for J-Source in advance of that screening). Having won several awards since then, including the 2010 Cannes Independent Film Festival, it’s set to make a repeat appearance in Canada during the Toronto Independent Film Festival – on September 11th.