In collaboration with La Fabrique Culturelle
In presence of the director
What makes Jesse Rosenfeld tick? A freelance reporter based in the Middle East, Jesse has made the region the focus of his work. Freelancer on the Front Lines accompanies him in his daily life as he criss-crosses Egypt, Israel and Palestine, Turkey and Iraq. Examining thorny geopolitical realities shaped by the events transforming the Middle East, the documentary follows Jesse as he chases the news to make a living, and explores how journalism practices have changed in an ever-shifting media landscape.
When war zones call, Jesse answers, driven by an idealism that demonstrates his faith in humanity. Whether covering the dashed hopes of the Egyptian revolution in Cairo (sitting through the trial that jailed Canadian-Egyptian journalist Mohamed Fahmy and reporting from the streets as the military consolidates power), war and occupation in Israel-Palestine from Ramallah to Gaza, the spillover of the Syrian civil war into refugee camps in southeastern Turkey, or Kurdish fighters confronting the armed militants of the Islamic State in northern Iraq, the man is on a mission to share the issues on the ground with his readers. He conveys the impact of these historic events by telling the stories of those living through them. Observing him as he works, Freelancer on the Front Lines joins a man who is always on the move, continually navigating the fray of the modern media landscape while reporting the news he thinks you need to hear and hoping to make the front page.
Jesse is a new breed of reporter. Documenting his journey through conflict zones, the film shows the new reality of freelancers who have to adapt to major upheavals in the media landscape and the ongoing crisis in print journalism. On the fringes of traditional media, a new type of journalism has emerged, and Freelancer on the Front Lines shows us what goes into this frantic quest for news.
In exploring the obstacles Jesse must overcome, the documentary examines the chaotic environment reporters must contend with. For Jesse, who belongs to the generation that grew up with the Iraq war in the headlines, it’s important to contextualize and never hold back, even when discussing the West’s share of the blame for violence, oppression and destruction in the Middle East.
Combining interviews with Jesse, his reporting in the field, his articles, and archival news, Freelancer on the Front Lines uses many angles to present a profile of this new journalism in the digital age. With the thrilling pace of an action film, the documentary follows Jesse on his perpetual travels and keeps viewers on the edge of their seats. Relaxing from time to time back in Toronto, temporarily away from the noise of the world, Jesse reveals other aspects of his personality: haunted by scenes of horror, he’s a seasoned professional who never claims to be a hero. The prisoner of a never-ending cycle, he soon returns to the task of chasing news under foreign skies, with just one hope: to engage his readers with the realities of the region in which he lives and give them the information they need to understand and act.
Freelancer on the Front Lines provides a window into the deep-seated struggles shaping today’s Middle East, and offers an insider’s look at the importance of independent, critical news coverage in a media landscape that too often tends toward convergence.View the trailer
Santiago Bertolino is an independent director-screenwriter and web video journalist whose latest work is Freelancer on the Front Lines, an NFB-produced feature documentary. This film diary captures the daily life of a freelance journalist over the course of a year, following him across the Middle East, from Iraqi Kurdistan to Israel and Palestine, from Egypt to Turkey. The film gave Bertolino the opportunity to act as an independent observer of thorny geopolitical realities shaped by momentous historical events.
After graduating from Brébeuf College in 1998 with a diploma in creative arts, literature and languages, and a focus on cinema, Santiago Bertolino learned the craft of filmmaking mostly on the job while taking technical courses over several years. A strong believer in documentaries that question the mass media and the images they produce, he soon began to take on political projects in which he could share his vision of the state of the world. His first films—Les illusions du libre-échange, co-directed with Sylvain Bédard (2001), and La crise du café (2002) and Nuevo Horizonte (2005), two shorts about Guatemala and co-ops—are good examples.
Although Bertolino is a global citizen, he has a keen interest in how Quebec society is evolving, as seen in several of his web projects: Actualité citoyenne (2006–2009) and Trucs et astuces de la vidéo citoyenne (2008), available on the NFB site under the Parole citoyenne program, or the De prison en prison vlog (2010) co-directed with Steve Patry, a series of shorts about ex-convicts re-entering society. In 2013, Bertolino teamed up with Hugo Samson to direct Red Square on a Blackboard, a vibrant documentary on the “maple spring,” the student demos of 2012 supporting free tuition in Quebec. The film won two Gémeaux awards in 2014 (best social documentary and best documentary script).
His interest in the conflicts in the Middle East, and especially the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, led him to make several shorts in the region: La marche pour la libération de Gaza ou le tourbillon égyptien and Seules, les pierres n’arrêteront pas l’occupation, co-directed with Steve Patry. In 2013–2014, he co-wrote the documentary feature Pipelines, Power and Democracy with the film’s director, Olivier D. Asselin. The film looks at political and citizen engagement on environmental issues related to the development and exports of oil from the Alberta oil sands.
A committed filmmaker inspired by the direct cinema of Pierre Perrault, Gilles Groulx and Michel Brault, Bertolino habitually trains his keen eye on social and political struggles that underline the major issues in today’s world. By focusing on the important role of freelance journalists in the media landscape, Freelancer on the Front Lines, his most recent work, is no exception.