“Marie’s death is extremely painful for us,” Cathleen Colvin said when asked how her family was handling the release of not one, but two films and a biography of her sister, the legendary war correspondent Marie Colvin, who was killed on Feb. 22, 2012, in Homs, Syria. She was 56.
The documentary, “Under the Wire,” which covers the last three weeks of Colvin’s life, was released on Nov. 10. Cathleen, who goes by Cat, said she was shocked when she saw the film for the first time. An attorney now living in Oyster Bay who grew up with her sister in East Norwich, Cat joined filmmaker Chris Martin at the International Film Center in Manhattan to answer questions after its screening two weeks ago. “Under the Wire” was included in the Viewfinders Competition, a documentary film festival held each year at IFC.
Describing the film as intense, Martin called Marie Colvin one of the “greatest war correspondents,” adding, “The strategy of dictators to silence the press in places like Syria has been successful.”
The documentary was based on the book “Under the Wire: Marie Colvin’s Final Assignment,” by photographer Paul Conroy. He accompanied Colvin in Syria, and was seriously wounded when she was killed. “Paul wrote the book because he felt a burden to tell the Syrian people’s story and the danger to journalists,” Cat Colvin explained. “This was important to Marie, too.”
Colvin’s closest friend during her teenage years, Jerelyn Hanrahan, who now lives in Mill Neck, found the documentary disturbing. “I cried all the way home,” she said. She comforts herself with memories of happier times, like when she and Marie went to the Oyster Bay club Rumrunners, which closed years ago. “Marie loved wearing stilettos,” Hanrahan said, “and we’d dress to the nines and dance all night long.”
Colvin had also been targeted while on assignment in Sri Lanka in April 2001, when government troops were fighting Tamil Tiger guerillas. A grenade was fired at her when she yelled, “Journalist!” She survived, but lost the sight in her left eye and from then on wore a patch, which became her hallmark.
Colvin and Conroy arrived in Syria on Feb. 13, 2012 on assignment for the British national newspaper The Sunday Times. Conroy said in an interview on the Al Jazeera television show “The Stream” that they were there to tell the story of the Syrian civilians trapped in the war-torn city of Homs, which the Syrian Army had been bombing for five years.
“Lebanese intelligence told us that any journalist found in or around Homs was to be executed and the bodies thrown on the battlefield,” Conroy recounted. “We knew that going in.”
Cat Colvin said she felt a connection to the documentary because of Conroy, who reminds her of Marie. “They thought that if they could do their jobs better — if Paul could capture the pain of the suffering that he saw firsthand and if Marie could just write better, people would see how unacceptable it was,” she said. “And they thought that if they could bring it more graphically to the world, it wouldn’t continue.”
The other film about Colvin, “A Private War,” starring Rosamund Pike, was released on Nov. 2. The story is accurate, her sister said, except for the portion that delves into her personal life, as well as some of the other characters. They are combinations of various people that she had relationships with, Cat explained.
“Rosamund’s performance is brilliant; she mastered Marie’s mannerisms and voice,” said Cat, who met with the actress several times. “It’s a difficult film for my family to watch. It does depict my sister’s murder.”
A biography was also released on Nov. 1. “In Extremis: The Life of War Correspondent Marie Colvin,” was written by Lindsey Hilsum, international editor for Channel 4 News in England, who was also a foreign correspondent. “Lindsey was a close friend of Marie’s,” Cat said. “She spent a lot of time in Oyster Bay working on the biography, interviewing Marie’s friends and family.”
Cat has many memories of her sister. She described Marie as “uncompromising,” regardless of how small or large the issue. “Everything was an adventure with Marie,” Cat said.
She had been passionate about sailing since she was 14 and bought her first boat. Their parents, Bill and Rosemarie Colvin, gave her their permission to do so, certain that she wouldn’t be able to scrape together the money for a few years, but Cat said the boat showed up in the family’s East Norwich driveway soon after.
Hanrahan hadn’t seen Marie since the 1990s, but her memories of her best friend remain solid. She remembers Colvin as soft-spoken and elegant, unpretentious and vulnerable. The two met in high school and shared a love of running. They also waited tables together at the Seawanhaka Yacht Club.
“Even then she was addicted to The New York Times and coffee — she’d drink like 25 cups a day,” Hanrahan recalled. She cherishes her memories of a trip they took to California and Mexico when they were 17. “I think Marie’s career in journalism began when we were in Mexico,” Hanrahan said. “We saw a woman with five children walking in the desert. Marie wanted to know how much people were paid and how many hours they worked. She was very upset about the woman’s situation.”
When they returned, Hanrahan went to college and to Europe to become an artist. Marie went to Yale.
Hanrahan said she never saw her friend as someone who was confused about who she was, as “someone tormented on the inside,” as she is portrayed in “A Private War.” Hanrahan confirmed that Colvin had PTSD, but insisted that she was “never someone that was having a private war.”
Colvin was smart, perceptive and always open to what people were saying, her friend said. “It was always comfortable when we were together,” she added. “We were like sisters.”