U.S. Documentary Feature
Directed by Heather O’Neill
Oftentimes in relation to sports or other professional settings the term “dream team” is thrown around to acknowledge greatness at a very specific point in history. That term conveys a feeling that if one piece of this team were any different, they would not have been able to accomplish all that they had. Heather O’Neill’s No Ordinary Life is the story of one such “dream team,” but not in an area most people might suspect. The film follows the group of exceptional women, who were pioneers in the field of photojournalism starting in the 1980s. Working not only to bring truth to the world by covering some of the most harrowing and devastating global conflicts, these women also had to work twice as hard just to be acknowledged in a field that was primarily dominated by men. The film focuses on five of these brave women: Mary Rogers, Cynde Strand, Jane Evans, Maria Fleet and Margaret Moth, who risked their lives on a daily basis to tell the stories they knew the world needed to see. Not only are these women exceptionally gifted in their craft, for which they are more than deserving of esteem and recognition, but they also paved the way for more women to find opportunities in journalism behind the camera and to be accepted as equals in the workspace.
No Ordinary Life seamlessly weaves together archival footage with the interviews of the five main subjects. Some extremely iconic images flash on screen, like coverage from the Tiananmen Square massacre or the Arab Spring uprising and the audience gets to hear how these women experienced these scenes firsthand. Many of the stories they tell, accompanied by footage they actually shot, are shocking and harrowing but also awe inspiring and truly heroic. Not only were these women going to the most dangerous areas in the world, but oftentimes they were going in with the lack of support and respect from the men who were working around them. Mary Rodgers says “If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me how much the camera weighed, I could have retired.” These women had something to prove to their employers, their colleagues and their viewers, and although it wasn't a fair position to be put in, they all stepped up to the challenge and became true masters. They also became friends, and their own support group, because they could connect with each other on a deeper level. To see that bond play out through the course of this film adds humor and levity to a film that deals with some very serious topics.
One of the themes the film is also trying to convey is that these women are uniquely gifted in this specific visual medium, because they might see things through a different lens (pardon the pun) than most men do. Their successes stemmed from how they approached the work, being unflappable at times, but also empathetic and grateful to be able to talk to people at their most vulnerable. They were really trying to tell the human side of the story, as opposed to just showing shocking or horrifying images. These audacious women are also noble and inspirational human beings and Heather O’Neill captures their stories and distinct personalities wonderfully. The audience gets to know these women on a personal level and see their strength, but also the hardships they had to endure. In her director’s statement Heather O’Neill says “I wanted to make a film that allowed the audience to be immersed in the experience of being behind the camera. The sounds, the signs, the reading of the faces, the split-second decisions, and their sense of what was about to unfold.” The film does paint a unique picture of who these women are, what drives them to keep pushing forward, and how they all feel that they are just not meant for an “ordinary life.” We owe a debt to these women for bravely seeking out the truth and I for one am happy their stories are being brought to light.