Michael Ware’s Only the Dead claims Walkley

05 December, 2015 by Brian Karlovsky

Journalist Michael Ware's feature Only the Dead  has won the Walkley documentary award.

The film, which was recently bought by HBO Documentary Films is produced by Queensland-based Patrick McDonald (Predestination) and directed by Ware and two-time Academy Award-winning US documentarian Bill Guttentag (Nanking, Twin Towers).


It is also vying for an Academy Award and is elibible to shortlisted for Best Documentary. 

The shortlist will be announced in early December.

Only the Dead is a visceral and compelling documentary which follows Ware, a war correspondent reporting for Time Magazine and then CNN.

Ware finds himself launched into the Middle East following the geopolitical upheaval of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Ware, whose journalism career began at Queensland’s The Courier Mail, shot hundreds of hours of camcorder footage between 2003 and 2007 in war-torn Iraq.  

He was the first western journalist to get access to combat insurgents and as the nature of the war changed, Ware was given an extraordinary window into the rise of terrorist leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi – a man wanted for his role in hundreds of bombings, kidnappings and beheadings in Iraq. 

Al-Zarqawi was killed in 2006.

HBO will air the documentary in the first half of 2016. 

Walkley judges said Only the Dead was exceptional because it was drawn from Michael Ware’s 300 hours of (mostly handheld) battlefront footage to structure an observational timeline including his covert encounter with Zarqawi’s network. 

"Ware faced death constantly through what seemed like irrational exposure without respite over seven years. He survived, but at the cost of traumatic stress.

"Regardless, he is determined to share his handycam reality with confronting honesty. 

"Never before has video journalism taken us to the heart of violence and atrocity perpetrated by a monster and the invader who created it. 

"Our Orwellian never-ending 'war on terror' is the result. 

"Only the Dead confronts us with our misjudgement and is the most powerful document as a result."

The feature documentary also took out three awards at this week's Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) Industry Awards taking out Best Direction in a Documentary, Best Editing in a Documentary, and Best Sound in a Documentary.

Only the Dead will screen around the country via cinema on demand platform Fanforce.