The lobby of DCTV’s new documentary film center in New York will be dedicated to the filmmaker Brent Renaud, who worked out of the historic firehouse alongside Democracy Now! for many years. Renaud was the first journalist to be killed in the Ukraine war after he was shot dead on March 13, 2022, while filming refugees near the capital Kyiv for a documentary series. We speak with Brent’s brother, filmmaker Craig Renaud, who was his partner in the field for decades, and feature some of their work in Iraq and about U.S. soldiers deployed there from the Renauds’ home state of Arkansas. “It’s still surreal at this point,” comments Renaud, who says the theater lobby “couldn’t be a better way to honor him.”
AMY GOODMAN: So, I want to move on to what’s going to happen tonight, the dedication that is going to take place. As the Firehouse: DCTV’s Cinema for Documentary Film opens here in New York City, the lobby tonight will be dedicated to the filmmaker Brent Renaud, who worked out of DCTV for many years, along his brother, who’s joining us now, Craig Renaud, award-winning filmmakers, who spent two decades producing films and television programs with Brent, before Brent was killed earlier this year, on March 13th, near Kyiv in Ukraine as he was filming refugees for a documentary series called Tipping Point. He was the first U.S. reporter killed in the Ukraine war.
Craig, our deepest condolences to you and your family. On Democracy Now!, of course, we remembered [Brent] after he was killed. I could not even believe we were talking about remembering [Brent], as opposed to just having [Brent] on to talk about what he was filming. And I look forward to seeing you there tonight, the whole family, as you dedicate the lobby of this documentary film cinema. Can you talk about Brent after these months of his death, and what it means to you to have this cinema in the place where we both worked for so many years?
CRAIG RENAUD: Yeah, I mean, you know, it’s a huge honor. We were at DCTV yesterday getting a tour of the theater for the first time, and seeing the plaque to Brent, you know, it’s still surreal at this point, I would say. You know, it’s been six months, and it’s still hard to believe that we’re talking about Brent in this way. But, you know, this couldn’t be a better way to honor him. Considering the many years and many films that we did with DCTV and Jon, to be coming back and honoring Brent in this way is really great.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re showing a photograph right now of Jon and you and Brent and Sharif Abdel Kouddous in —
JON ALPERT: Oh no. Is that the one — is that the one where we’re —
AMY GOODMAN: You’re just standing.
JON ALPERT: — where I’m in my surfer shorts?
AMY GOODMAN: You’re just — yeah, you’re just standing. But I want to go to a clip from Bridge to Baghdad, which, Jon, you directed, and Craig and Brent went together, with Sharif, in 2003 to Iraq.
IRAQI CIVILIAN 1: Now we’re going to visit my aunt. She lost her son in the bombing. He’s my cousin from my mother’s side, of course. And you’ll see she’s very sad.
IRAQI CIVILIAN 2: The airplane came and threw —
IRAQI CIVILIAN 1: Cluster bomb.
IRAQI CIVILIAN 2: Yeah, whatever it is. I thought it’s mushroom bomb. And I know it’s forbidden. I know it’s forbidden. Why? Why my son? I lost my son, and he’s my treasure.
IRAQI CIVILIAN 1: As you see, from the bombing, there’s holes on the windows. It happened because of the cluster bomb. It’s so obvious. They are just killing people.
IRAQI CIVILIAN 2: And one went through the metal. See? You can see. Right through this metal, break this glass and went to the wall — to the ceiling in the inside. This is his father, Hussay [phon.]. It was in the night. I went to see him in the hospital.
HUSSAY: There is no army here. Yeah. But the American, they say Saddam Hussein, killer. But I think Bush, it’s more than killer, Saddam Hussein.
IRAQI CIVILIAN 1: We are going to see his room, the bedroom.
IRAQI CIVILIAN 2: When they told me he died, the doctor told me, I begged the nurse at least give me some of his hair. This is all what I’ve got of Rahman [phon] left, and a bit of blood I’ll show you. This is — she cut it to me after he died. I said, “Please, I want” — I wouldn’t let them take him. Then they said, “Please, leave him in peace.” It’s over. He died. Anyway, this is his trouser when — I kept it. Look. This is his leg, one of his legs. That’s when he be shot. Look. The things he’ve been — all this been through him. All these holes. They cut it in the operation. Full of holes. I mean, just look. The blood. Look. My baby’s pants, with the blood stain. My baby, full of holes. How could he? Look. Look all these holes from the bomb. And they said, “We don’t hurt civilian people.” “We don’t hurt civilian people.” They hurt us.
AMY GOODMAN: Bridge to Baghdad, the film that was filmed by Craig and Brent Renaud, directed by Jon Alpert. Craig, you and Brent both appeared on Democracy Now! several times to talk about your films, including that 10-part series, Off to War, for Discovery about the deployment to Iraq of the National Guard from your home state of Arkansas. This is an excerpt.
NATIONAL GUARD SOLDIER 1: Mama, Mama, can’t you see?
NATIONAL GUARD SOLDIERS: Mama, Mama, can’t you see?
NATIONAL GUARD SOLDIER 1: What this army is doing to me?
NATIONAL GUARD SOLDIERS: What this army is doing to me?
NARRATOR: As the war in Iraq enters its second year, nearly 3,000 soldiers from the Arkansas National Guard are called to active duty.
NATIONAL GUARD SOLDIER 2: Most of these guys, before we got activated, we held a civilian job.
NATIONAL GUARD SOLDIER 3: If the turkey houses get sold, then so be it. It’s out of my hands right now.
DAUGHTER: I don’t want him to go.
NATIONAL GUARD SOLDIER 4: Yeah, they’re going to target you, because they think you’re just a bunch of lazy, fat National Guardsmen who don’t know how to do their job.
NATIONAL GUARD SOLDIER 5: Get inside! Get inside!
NARRATOR: These soldiers are part of the largest deployment of National Guardsmen since the Korean War.
KATHLEEN BERGER: The military has confirmed that four Arkansas soldiers are killed in Iraq this weekend.
NARRATOR: Fifty-seven of the Arkansas Guardsmen come from the town of Clarksville. This is their story, as they leave home and family behind to serve in Iraq.
AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt from the documentary series Off to War: From Rural Arkansas to Iraq, directed by Brent and Craig Renaud. In 2004, the Renaud brothers appeared on Democracy Now! to talk about their time embedded with the Arkansas National Guard. This is Brent.
BRENT RENAUD: We arrived in Baghdad with a National Guard unit —
AMY GOODMAN: Brent.
BRENT RENAUD: — with the Arkansas National Guard, in these same sort of unarmored vehicles. Right away in April, which was one of the bloodiest months of the war, when we arrived, there were, right off the bat, a lot of injuries and deaths, particularly with Echo Troop, who you just saw on the clip. Within that group, there were a number of guys who refused to go out on missions almost immediately, after they had seen their friends and their fellow soldiers die right in front of them. Fortunately for them, Sergeant Short, who you see in the clip, the one talking in the Humvee, handled it internally, gave them time off, allowed them to get it together and to get back on the job. But I would say, right off the bat, I witnessed about three to four guys who were just saying, “It’s too dangerous to go out there. We’re dropping like flies,” as you also heard it in the clip. This is pretty widespread sentiment.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s dear Brent Renaud, the filmmaker, in the firehouse studio when we were broadcasting there, talking about that amazing series, Craig. And I know this is so hard. It’s as if he’s right next to you. And you’ve worked for so many years together. Your final thoughts on how his legacy continues?
CRAIG RENAUD: I mean, it’s always going to continue, you know? I’m working on a film about Brent right now. You know, the nice thing is, is when I got to Ukraine, I had two goals, which was to get Brent home to our family and to get Juan out of Ukraine, and then the second goal was to get —
AMY GOODMAN: Juan was the reporter he was working with?
CRAIG RENAUD: — the footage that Brent had filmed, which I was able to do. And we filmed my entire journey going over there. So we’re putting together a film right now about Brent’s final assignment and the work that he died trying to do. So, you know —
AMY GOODMAN: And Juan was the —
CRAIG RENAUD: — that would be a nice legacy for him.
AMY GOODMAN: Juan was his colleague in Ukraine who was also shot but not killed?
CRAIG RENAUD: That’s correct, yeah. And Juan will be there tonight at the theater dedication.
AMY GOODMAN: Jon Alpert, your final thoughts, as we move into the film you’ll be showing tonight at your new cinema?
JON ALPERT: Well, I think Brent is a real hero. How many wars did he go to?
CRAIG RENAUD: I’ve lost count. I’m not sure.
JON ALPERT: You can”t count them. And, you know, once —
CRAIG RENAUD: Every war since 9/11.
JON ALPERT: Yeah. And, you know, once you go to see war, something happens to you. It happened to you. It happened to me. And you need to tell the world what war is really like. You know, we have a lot of problems in America, but we’ve been fortunate that the wars, in general, haven’t been here. But we’ve been involved in a lot of them. And it’s important that Americans know what happens when people go to war. And Brent committed his life to telling that particular story, and he gave his life to that particular story. He’s a real hero. And it’s going to be a moment of pride every time we walk in the lobby and we see his picture up there, both tinged with sadness, because we’ve all lost somebody who was fighting for us every single day, but very, very proud of what he’s done.
CRAIG RENAUD: Absolutely.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Craig, I want to thank you for —
JON ALPERT: And Craig — Amy, Craig has done the same thing. OK, you’ve done the same thing. You know, this is what we do.
AMY GOODMAN: Craig, thank you for speaking with us today. It’s great have you back on Democracy Now! And Jon, filmmaker, co-founder and executive director of DCTV, who worked closely with Brent. We thank you both so much for being with us.