About the Film

In 1943, with the Allied invasion of Europe imminent, a newly drafted 21-year old Tony Vaccaro applied to the U.S. Army Signal Corps. He had developed a passion for photography and knew he wanted to photograph the war. “They said I was too young to do this,” Tony says, holding his finger as if taking a photo, “but not too young to do this,” turning his finger forward, pulling a gun trigger. Not one to be denied, Tony went out and purchased a $47.00 Argus C3, and carried the camera into the war with him. He would fight with the 83rd Infantry Division for the next 272 days, playing two roles – a combat infantryman on the front lines and a photographer who would take roughly 8,000 photographs of the war.

In the decades that followed the war, Tony would go on to become a renowned commercial photographer for magazines such as Look, Life, and Flair, but it is his collection of war photos, images that capture the rarely seen day-to-day reality of life as a soldier, that is his true legacy. Tony kept these photos locked away for decades in an effort to put the war behind him, and it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that this extraordinary body of work was first discovered and celebrated in Europe. In the United States, however, Tony has yet to receive his due and few people have heard of him.

Our film tells the story of how Tony survived the war, fighting the enemy while also documenting his experience at great risk, developing his photos in combat helmets at night and hanging the negatives from tree branches. The film also encompasses a wide range of contemporary issues regarding combat photography such as the ethical challenges of witnessing and recording conflict, the ways in which combat photography helps to define how wars are perceived by the public, and the sheer difficulty of staying alive while taking photos in a war zone.

Though the narrative spine of the film is a physical journey in which Tony brings us to the places in Europe where many of his most powerful photos were taken, over the course of the film we also trace Tony’s emotional journey from a young GI eager to record the war to an elderly man who, at 93, has become a pacifist, increasingly horrified at man’s ability to wage war. Tony believed fiercely that the Allied forces in WWII were engaged in a just war, but he vowed never to take another war photo the day the war ended, and he didn’t.

In addition to numerous interviews with Tony, the film includes interviews with a number of other people, including Tyler Hicks, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer for the New York Times; Lynsey Addario, a Pulitzer Prize-winner who has covered conflict for 30 years for the New York Times, Time, National Geographic, and other major publications; Anne Wilkes Tucker, a photography curator and curator of the comprehensive exhibition WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY; James Estrin, a Senior Photographer for the New York Times and editor of the Times’ Lens blog; and John G. Morris, who was the photo editor of Life Magazine during World War II and was Robert Capa’s editor.

Pvt. Wiselogle on track with Motorcycle, Montargis, France 1944

Liberation of Nantes, France 1944

Pvt. Lofgren with boy, Mont Dol, Brittany, August 1944

Argus_C3

The Argus C3

“I’m gonna buy a camera, learn how to use it, and show the world the real pictures of the war.”

–Michelantonio ‘Tony’ Vaccaro

Trailer

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Featuring

``Having the camera in front of my face keeps me focused on the image ... to almost look at a situation surgically, almost as if I can stay one step removed.``
Lynsey Addario Pulitzer Prize-winner who has photographed conflict for 30 years
``Tony was totally focused on telling the truth and telling the hard and difficult and brutal truths and to do so he was willing to put his life at risk.``
James Estrin Senior Photographer for the New York Times
``The still image is so important, it taps into a completely different part of the brain, it taps into part of the brain that retains memory in a completely different way than the moving image does.``
Tyler Hicks Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer for the New York Times
``Certainly what Tony went through… he would have known that he would either get killed or badly wounded. That was the only way back to the US for him and everybody he knew around him. So knowing that, what keeps you going is fighting for the guys around you.``
Alex Kershaw New York Times best-selling author and historian
“…the truth about war is often very grim, so great war photos tend to be photos of tragedy.``
John G. Morris Photo editor of Life Magazine during World War II/ Robert Capa’s editor
``I've looked at well over a million war pictures and looking at the moment of death is incredibly rare, like in the ones and twos.``
Anne Wilkes Tucker Photography curator and curator of the comprehensive exhibition WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY

About Michelantonio 'Tony' Vaccaro

Though born in America, Tony Vaccaro spent the first years of his life in the village of Bonefro, Italy. Both of his parents had died by the time he was eight years old and he was raised by an uncaring aunt and uncle. He spent most of his free time in the town barbershop, soaking up stories told by wounded returning WWI veterans. These stories instilled in Tony a lifelong fascination with the world and a desire to become a foreign correspondent. After WWII broke out, the American Ambassador in Rome ordered Tony to return to the States. He settled in with his sisters in New Rochelle, NY where he joined his high school camera club.

A year later, at the age of 21, Tony was drafted into the war, and by the spring of 1944 he was photographing war games in Wales. By June, now a combat infantryman in the 83rd Infantry Division, he was on a boat heading toward Omaha Beach, six days after the first landings at Normandy. Denied access to the Signal Corps, Tony was determined to photograph the war, and had his portable 35mm Argus C-3 with him from the start.

For the next 272 days, Tony fought on the front lines of the war. He entered Germany in December 1944, a private in the Intelligence Platoon, tasked with going behind enemy lines at night.

“When I was not on a night mission, I processed my films in four army helmets and hung the wet negatives from tree branches to dry.” By the end of the war, Tony had taken nearly 8,000 photographs – intimate, often brutal, pictures of life as a combat soldier.

In the years after the war, Tony remained in Germany to photograph the rebuilding of the country for Stars And Stripes, the US Army newspaper. “Roads, bridges, factories, houses and entire cities had to be cleared of rubble and rebuilt. When I was a child, before the war, Germany had…just invented stainless steel which made all its metal products shine…Now, at the start of a new era, it was on its knees and I wanted to chronicle how it would rebuild itself from year zero.”

Returning to the States in 1950, Tony started his career as a commercial photographer, eventually working for Life, Look and Flair magazine. Tony went on to become one the most sought after photographers of his day, photographing everyone from John F. Kennedy and Sophia Loren to Pablo Picasso and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Tony is now 93 and lives in Long Island City, NY.

Tony's Work: 1944 – 1947

World War II Images

“I was with the same unit, I knew everyone intimately. The intimacy was at such a level that if I aimed a camera, they didn’t react to it.”

–Tony Vaccaro

Copyright Michael A. Vaccaro Studios 2015, All Rights Reserved.

From Omaha Beach to the Elbe River

The Route of Pfc. Tony Vaccaro

Tony's Work: 1950 – 2000

Marcel Marceau

Pablo Picasso

Georgia O’Keeffe

Shirley MacLaine

Jean Renoir

John F. Kennedy

Sophia Lauren

Leonard Bernstein

Marcel Duchamp

Willem de Kooning

Larry Rivers

Jackson Pollock

On Location

Festivals

Underfire will be presented as official selections of  a number of major film festivals this autumn. 

The US premiere will be at the Boston Film Festival on September 22nd.  In addition the film will be presented as the west coast premiere at the San Diego Film Festival, the Orlando Globe and Peace Film Festival, the Margaret Mead Film Festival in New York on October 14th, the Tallgrass Film Festival, the Chagrin Film Festival, the Twin Cities Film Festival in Minneapolis, the Edmonton International Film Festival and the GZDOC Documentary Film Festival in Guangzhou, China.

Underfire has already been screened at the Shanghai International Film Festival in June.  Stay Tuned!

News

Underfire in LA Times

October 21, 2016

Underfire gets a great review in the LA Times! Click through to read Kenneth Turan’s writeup.

Contact Us

Our Company

Dog Green Productions was founded by Max Lewkowicz, an award-winning, history-based documentarian with over 30 years of experience. Our production philosophy is based on merging uncompromising truth with powerful creative passion.

From the D-Day Landing Beaches in Normandy to the first Jamestown Settlement in Virginia, from stories of the horror of life and death in Auschwitz-Birkenau to “Checkpoint Charlie” in Cold War Berlin, Dog Green Productions’ primary focus has always been the historical, political and sociological stories that have been part of a continuously changing world. With that mission, Dog Green Productions (named after a sector of Omaha Beach on D-Day) has produced countless award-winning documentary films and interactives for museums, television networks, exhibitions and interpretive centers located in places as varied as South Africa, France, Israel, the United Kingdom, Poland, Canada, and Japan.

For more information about Tony Vaccaro’s work, please visit tonyvaccaro.studio.

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New York: 51 W. 81st Street, #4J
New York, NY 10024
(646) 290-6931