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Its 1993. I’m standing in the lobby of the Holiday Inn, Sarajevo. The front half of this hotel shot to bits, the back half stacked up with the great and the good of the press pack - scribblers, snappers, TV reporters. I’m 25 years old and its just over a year since I first stepped into a war zone. Across the bar is Robert King. He’s one of the few here with even less war experience than me. Unlike any hacks I’ve ever met, Robert is completely honest about his inexperience. He’s propping up the bar telling me, “Man, I lived in Brooklyn for years. But I had no idea war would be like this!”. He’s got 800 bucks in his pocket and is having to scam free lunches from the hotel restaurant then move to another place setting before the waiters notice.

I really warm to Robert. Amongst the tight-lipped bravado of the press pack he’s a breath of fresh air. He wears his heart on his sleeve and is completely honest about all the troubles he’s having. My friend Vaughan Smith and I have been trying to make a film about the hacks. Its not been easy. Most of them have made their excuses and ducked out. All these journalists are quite happy to turn their cameras and editorial focus on others but when it comes to being the subject themselves - not a chance!

Robert is different. Its his first time in a war-zone and it’s not proving easy. He gets shot at on the front line, fired by his agent and sets light to his flat. His honesty, persistence in the face of adversity and innate good humor are hard to beat for a documentary. But who’d have ever thought I’d still be with him, making the same film 15 years later? I thought he’d give up, burn out, or get killed. But all these years on, he’s still doing it. He’s one of the few.

I pretty much gave up going to wars ten years ago. I did my stint in the 90's then turned  my hand to other things. Its easier when you think you’re invincible. When you’re in your 20’s and nothing bad has ever really happened. Then the fear creeps in, the doubt, the cynicism. It gets in your guts and sickens you. You imagine ever tiny moment after the shell comes through your wall - the dust and debris swirling and the numbness in your legs. Its pretty hard to work in these places when your imagination is firing on all four cylinders.

So people change. Robert has changed and so have I. He’s more comfortable under fire than most hacks now. Its his mainstay of income.Iraq is his main pay cheque and he’s had front covers on some of the world’s biggest publications. He jokes with me when we get kicked off a convoy in Ghazalia, Baghdad and I tell him “at least we’re alive”. He thinks I’ve gone soft, lost my nerve. He’s right. We have all changed. And in some ways this is maybe the strongest asset of the film we’ve made. It’s sense of change. Robert’s character arcs from his initial naivety, through success and hedonism in the former to a more steady period of marriage and family life. There is something utterly compelling in seeing someone transform as years are compressed to minutes on film. 

I don’t think I could have made this film ten years ago. At that time I didn’t register how it was Robert’s own family dysfunction that attracted him to wars. I also didn’t see how my own had. I was blissfully naive. But ten years on, after several colleagues have fallen, the world seems a far more complex place. So in some ways this film - Blood Trail - also reflects how I’ve changed.

It has always been a tough film to sell. I talked about that recently with Channel 4 and you can listen to the interview on the 4Talent website. The previous version was more like a comedy set in a war zone. A coming of age film with comic twists and an engaging, honest central character. The TV industry was simply not equipped to deal with such a film, set in an arena that was normally dominated by ‘current affairs’. Maybe they also felt it was too much like navel gazing.

Co producer Vaughan Smith and I struggled on with the film, believing that there was a great story to be told. We were turned down by virtually every channel and the few European sales we did make trickled in, barely covering costs. Now 15 years on, I find myself remortgaging my flat to pay the bills, stubbornly believing that this film can finally find its feet. The feedback has been excellent and acceptance to great festivals like Toronto a real endorsement. So we’re hoping that after 15 years, the tide is turning and perhaps we can close the door on this long standing labour of love.

Since screening at Britdoc there’s been a bit of a buzz growing about the film. We've had really positive feedback about Blood Trail and acceptance to fantastic festivals like Torontohas very much helped. We've had a lot of phone calls and emails from interested sales agents and distributors not to mention other festivals. All of which has is extremely heartwarming after spending 15 years on this long standing labour of love.