A song for Andy
I wrote a song to Andy. I have trouble summing him up in words, but it’s been helpful for me just to talk with him, at least in my head. It’s called “I Hope You Knew.”
Though I’ve known Andy all my life we were closest in high school and through the 90’s. Andy was an old school 60’s style hippie all the way through high school. Which was kind of ballsy when you consider that that kind of stuff was pretty passé in the late 80’s. It was the golden age of the mullet but Andy was not having that. Full locks. He would drag us to see the Dead and he never wore deodorant. My god that kid stank. He taught me Friend of the Devil and Ripple on the guitar and I can still play those tunes.
In the nineties we spent a lot of time hanging around Brooklyn when he first moved there and the Manhattan theater scene. We met lots of awesome women and drank lots of beer. It was great. He was getting into film editing and I was doing lots of off-off-Broadway. The Upright Citizens Brigade was a new thing and we took their improv classes. He was much better than me.
Andy loved the hedonism of hippie life but it was also about fierce idealism. As everyone’s been noting, Andy was a dyed in the wool liberal that would go to the wall for anybody he thought had gotten a raw deal. That went for all sorts of oppressed groups but also for friends. I never had a better friend. He’d do anything for you. He was always there and he never judged me. I remember many time being amazed at the depth of the generosity and empathy (sometimes I just thought he was foolish). I never told him that. Probably because would only have made some kind of joke and told me to lighten up.
Anyway I will miss Andy terribly as we all will. Thanks for this chance to remember him.
Letter to Andy on his birthday
Andy, my friend,
All the stories and tributes about how brave you were, about your singular and steadfast gaze on the small and vulnerable in the midst of chaos, about how kids loved you and you loved them, about how and why your work was riveting and important, all of these are true.
It is also true that you were often pretty nervous and awkward around girls and were eager for coaching. That you came early and stayed late. That you relished a home cooked meal and in the early days, drank a lot of my beer. That though you almost always were over to watch a movie with my Andy, you saw me, and in your gaze I was always beautiful, and you were always up for dancing. By the time that you were not well, the family quality of our friendship was complete, my half Dutch, all American little brother, and in those dark days you let me mother you. Your vulnerability and simple gratitude for human connection at each one of those stages was a gift that brought out the same in every one — so many! — in your world.
Today I should have been reaching out to wish you a happy birthday. I’m going to do my best to trust that you knew how much I loved you, even though it had been way too long.
I miss you, buddy.
Love always, Jenny
When I think of Andy, I think of goofiness. I know, he spent his time in war zones, embedded with Nigerian rebel groups, or elsewhere, but that’s not what we talked about. We talked about our love of big sandwiches over hamburgers. I’d look forward to seeing him at BBQs or where ever — if he was in the country, he’d be there — and we’d catch up and laugh about nothing over a drink. How after a hike, he’d be the first person to strip off his clothes and and go skinnydipping in a pond. Or the time I went to a NY marathon party at his S. Williamsburg apartment and saw that he used the same Aveda shampoo and conditioner I did, and what a great day of teasing that was. Andy was somehow both awkward and charming, and had huge mouth for a huge smile. And of course I remember the call I got the day he was arrested in Nigeria – I work at Human Rights Watch, and I quickly hunted down a friend in our Africa division and she told me “everyone is on his case already,” that I could rest easy (I didn’t) because good people were on it. And how when he was released, he worked so hard to help his fixer, who was also arrested but didn’t have a US passport to extricate himself with. There was a time when I grew sick of all the Kickstarter campaigns I was asked to fund, but I always donated to Andy’s. You knew something good would come of it. I knew Andy had struggles with depression, and I was so very, very sorry to hear that we lost him. The world will miss him.
I’ve been struggling to put pen to paper about Andy, not because there aren’t great things to say about him, but because writing something about him makes his passing all the more real and true. I met Andy randomly one night back in 2011 at a neighborhood bar. I was saving a stool for a friend who was running late, and Andy walked in and asked if he could sit there. It was crowded so there weren’t any seats besides that one. I told him in a very matter-of-fact way that I was saving it for a friend, but he could sit there until my friend came, and at that point then he’d have to get up. Andy laughed when I said that, and sat down. He had just moved into his apartment that night & was new to the neighborhood. When my friend came, Andy got up to move, and my friend scolded me for being rude & then he found another stool in the bar and brought it over so Andy could stay in his seat. I kept repeating that I hadn’t meant to be rude & had just been being honest, & all I can remember is Andy laughing at me & saying he appreciated my candor. Luckily Andy didn’t think I was being bitchy, and understood I had just been looking out for a friend. His forgiving nature and his assuming the best of intentions is what I remember most about our first meeting. The three of us all hung out that night, & Andy & I exchanged info. It took several months to hang out again due to our schedules, but what I remember from our subsequent night out was that Andy told me about his travels and nonchalantly mentioned he had biked 100 miles the weekend before. (Oh, & he also threw in a sub about his best marathon time beating mine, & told me I was slow.) That was Andy— always downplaying his amazing feats and travels and work, & always giving me gentle ribbing, like an older brother would have done. He would say comments that he knew would irritate me & push the envelope, and oh how he’d laugh when I’d get annoyed, give him the side eye, and tell him to stop. He thought it was funny because he always said I didn’t get mad very often.
Andy and I became running buddies in late 2014. I had a running job, so Andy started coming to workouts. The first time he came out, he hadn’t run in years, & despite my protests that it was too much too soon, he joined the 7 mile group I was pacing & completed the whole thing. When Andy went in on something, he went in big and he committed; there was no half-assing it with him. He showed up on Saturday mornings in his tights, and we ran all sorts of miles around NYC that winter in the crazy freezing weather. He loved it and began posting photos with his #tights hashtag. I told him many times that his running fashion needed sprucing up, but he laughed & shook his head at me & kept wearing that drab brown Patagonia sweater jacket. He made me laugh so hard quite often with his sense of humor, and after runs, we’d often take the train home together & chop it up on the ride home, or sometimes I’d stop by his apartment on my way to workouts and pick him up & we’d catch up that way. We put a lot of miles in that winter and spring, & I still remember us running through Central Park one cold Saturday morning, with him heckling me as I paced him and a group of runners, & me not being able to rudely retort back as I normally would because I was working, & him relishing in that fact, ribbing me relentlessly. He ran a half marathon that May. His shorts split down the rear the night before, so he MacGyvered them up and ran in them the next day. He seemed to be in his element at the end of that race with all his running pals around him, & I remember he looked so happy on the Cyclones baseball field afterwards. He even had taken a post race dip in the ocean after. Andy and I talked exercise stuff often, & he was always telling me how he loved weights & shit talked a lot, saying he was faster than me. (He wasn’t, ha ha.)
Those runs brought us closer, and although there was a point Andy didn’t run with me anymore, we still saw one another, just not as often. When he first started feeling down, he’d come to my apartment sometimes and hang out. It was extremely hard to see him hurting & struggling so much. Sometimes I would listen & other times, I’d give him tough love & reprimand him like an old lady aunty would. I hope he understood that it wasn’t that I didn’t care; I just wanted him to take the steps needed to get better. I hope he knew that I did the best I could.
Though he had a wry sense of humor, Andy was a sensitive man who really thought deeply about things. He’d call me up and bare his soul and apologize for what he thought was complaining. I’d always tell him it wasn’t. Because it wasn’t. We were friends being there for one another. I also knew that Andy hid parts of himself so if he was willing to bare them, it was significant. Andy struggled like most of us do, & he wanted to be able to tough it out and push through, like many of us often want to. He was courageous, letting folks in when he felt the most vulnerable & embarrassed, & we saw him at some really tough points. Even in his darkest moments he was able to laugh and find humor, & I always appreciated that about him. Eventually he took the steps to get better, & slowly he did. He told me he was going to CA for a visit, but he then ended up staying there for good. I never got to see him before he left, & though he invited me to come visit numerous times, life got in the way and I never did. So I never got to say goodbye.
Andy would always encourage me to go for it when any opportunity would come my way. Often I was too hesitant, and I wish I had Andy’s drive and lack of fear for new situations. I admired it so much. He threw himself into his work with a passion and vigor. He seemed unafraid to go on the front lines. If he was white knuckling it, he never ever said it. He went to parts of the world that most of us would never see, & documented the marginalized people who suffered from disasters, wars, & displacement; all sorts of terrible things. He witnessed so much, and did it fearlessly, camera in hand. He didn’t talk much about his work & accomplishments to me, & I wish I would have asked more about it now. He always downplayed it as being very “everyday” though we both knew it wasn’t, and I wish I’d have heard more stories from him about his work & travels. I definitely missed out.
Though Andy would poke fun at me constantly and try to get under my skin, when I made jokes about myself it was another matter. Andy always countered my self deprecating jokes with positives. He was the kind of guy who made sure you knew your positive attributes, & he reminded you constantly of them. He always made you feel important, beautiful, appreciated, & understood, & after hanging out with him you walked out of there feeling better about yourself than when you had come in. Even in his last days when he was struggling, Andy was a pillar of support for me and extended himself. To know that he did that while he was struggling so much is remarkable and speaks to the type of person and friend he was. Even when it was hard for him, he found the time to listen and encourage. I’m still awed by the sheer generosity of it. He made room, even when things were super tough for him.
Among many things, I’ll miss Andy for his sheer honesty, his love of exercise & those weights he raved about that he had in his apartment (I never quite understood how they worked, despite the many times he patiently tried to school me on it), his sarcasm & jokes, him introducing me to movies at Nitehawk (he was right; it is a great place!), his love of that awful Rosemunde sausage place, many afternoons of hot chocolate and coffee & nights of beers, comedy show outings, our heated discussions about his crazy food fads, him making me laugh when things were serious and tough for either one of us, his courage in the face of managing not one but two difficult medical illnesses, & most importantly, his enthusiasm, enjoyment, & curiosity for the smaller things in life. He reminded me to get excited about things and appreciate the simple things in life. On winter runs, especially those in Central Park I’ll think of him always complaining during the slog of it but saying how amazing & refreshed & alive he felt after. As I walk around the neighborhood, I’m reminded of him so damn much. Andy was a good soul, as they say, and I’m truly lucky & better for it to have known him & have had him as a friend. I’m going to miss him for sure. The night of our final call, after we hung up, I realized I hadn’t said I love you. I thought of calling back to say it, but it was really late, so I thought, “oh, he knows” & I went to bed. I now wish I had called back and told him. I’m hoping that Andy knew.
Andy, I wish you could have stayed. I really, really do. But I understand. I’m hoping you have found peace and are not suffering anymore. I hope your mind is calmed and free of worry. I hope you’re smiling in some sunny place with a beautiful, picturesque view fit for that camera of yours. And I hope you know that you left so many people behind that really feel your absence & loved you, including me. You brought us all together, & some of us forged friendships because of you. I’ll miss you dearly, my friend. Rest easy.
by R. Hooman
One of the things I loved about Andy, and maybe even the reason we connected so well, is my propensity to dish it hard no holds barred and Andy’s unflinching quality to dish it right back harder. Didn’t really matter what I hurled at him or when, he had a sharp and quick response. He was NEVER offended, never hurt, never personal about that shit. In hindsight, no external thing was gonna take Andy down. Tough as nails. Even in the midst of one of his paralyzing bouts with depression, sprawled on the orange loveseat at 14 Bergen, bouncing back and forth between crying and crippling pain, I’d take a jab at him and bust his balls about something. After a beat, he’d shoot one right back, cracking a brief grin, really proud of himself and his remark, before fading back again.
Remembering one of my oldest and best friends
by Jason Gardner
A few days ago I lost one of my closest friends, one I’ve known since kindergarten.
Andrew Lukas Berends was an extremely gifted artist, filmmaker, photographer, musician, documentarian, and a humanist. Quite concerned with the human condition around him, tackling difficult and serious subjects, he also could be super silly and goofy at times. Tall and athletic and rangy, he was a little uncoordinated in a funny way. Nearly always up for anything social when I called, but yet a bit shy in reaching out.
An intensely private person, he shared with only a few people when he was really struggling with his debilitating depression a couple of years ago. Ironically he had fought back from that to seemingly emerge as strong as ever, taking meds, doing a lot of physical exercise and continuing to make films in demanding places. He told even fewer about his Parkinson’s diagnosis, which until recently he swore he was going to fight. I’m truly sorry he lost that fight.
In no particular order, I remember: helping him pack his bulletproof vest for his first Iraq filmmaking trip, playing guitar in high school youth group, going on many hikes which usually ended up in him jumping naked in a lake or river, being his wing man at the Tribeca Film Festival parties, him speaking at my wedding and taking some great behind the scenes phone shots of my wife and me, him winning the Providence Film Festival, making fun of Ms Hinkel in our high school French class (we both needed to speak French later on in life – should have paid more attention!), figuring out his crowdfunding campaign for raising money to complete a few of his films, hearing the stories of how he swallowed a SIM card in Nigerian jail so as not to reveal his rebel contacts, being his neighbor for a few years in Boerum Hill Brooklyn so I could pop over anytime, hitting Jones Beach or Amagansett for a summer weekend escape, us enjoying the insanity of Rio de Janeiro New Year’s, going sailing with Mike on the Hudson River, various Fourth of July on his Williamsburg rooftop, taking photography walks with no purpose other than looking and talking in Chinatown and Gowanus and upstate, him jumping on Toshi’s car roof in that silly anthropological video we did in high school, us fedexing each other replacement equipment in various foreign locations, the list goes on.
As his video reel shows, he was a sensitive soul, and we had multiple long conversations about how he felt truly alive when in the field documenting these human problems, and his struggle when he was back in NY and not active. He also wanted a normal life and to love and be loved by someone, and he struggled with some of his brave choices like many of us. Clearly he traveled to the most extreme conflict locations to connect to the fire that raged inside of him, that he did not share with many. He and his work will be remembered.
At the moment we have confirmed that on Tuesday 5/28 in the evening there will be a memorial hosted by the good people at Pure Nonfiction at the IFC Theater in the West Village for friends and colleagues, to celebrate his life and work. There will also be a more formal memorial for family and friends, to be announced. We’re also discussing a fund for a charity or filmmaking fellowship of the family’s choosing. More details as they develop.
Big hug to everyone.
Love you and miss you Andy.
Reflections on Andrew Berends
Andrew Berends wasn’t interested in becoming a martyr to the documentary film community or anyone else. Andy just wanted to be happy, and to be free from the physical and emotional agony he was feeling. Andy had simple dreams. He wanted to kiss that girl again—the one he met, the one who ghosted. He wanted to go back to the Ngong Hills in southern Kenya, where there is a tree on a hillside bending in the wind. He missed it so bad, he said. Andy wanted to recover from Parkinson’s. He wanted not to be lonely. He wanted to have a family, to feel little babies crawling on him.
Andy wanted those things, but he saw them slipping away into impossibility, and himself slipping away with them. He saw a future in which he would no longer be able to work, in which all over, his muscles would ache each day, in which his memory would fail and his hands would shake and nobody would want to look at him. These were the thoughts that made his life unbearable, that he wanted to escape. It was, he said, too soon. He was, he said, too young. He felt worn down to nothing, and that was that.
In his last month, Andy filmed a story for Vice about asylum seekers on the southern border. He felt proud of the work. He rode around Berkeley on his motorcycle and watched movies. He recommended They Shall Not Grow Old. He watched Mishima. He sent me an image of the final shot playing on his TV, the shot right before the writer takes his own life. Andy was also looking for beauty and truth, and it was painful for him to live in a world where those things seem to grow ever scarcer with each passing season.
I met Andy in 1991, when we both transferred to Wesleyan University from different schools and shared a house. He played the guitar, marveled at Led Zeppelin, and was friends with everyone. In our senior year I was the DP on his thesis film, and I could see his determination and commitment to filmmaking taking shape. After college we were off finding our parallel paths; I made a film about the Gaza Strip and he made a film about North Sea fishermen in the Netherlands.
We reconnected in Iraq. I arrived before him; he was looking for advice and contacts. He wanted to know how he should dress for the place. Maybe grow a beard, I suggested. Andy showed up in Baghdad looking like a werewolf with mange. Lose the beard, I suggested. In his first weeks in Iraq, Andy was already showing the rest of us what fearlessness looks like. When he was out filming with other journos, a guy brandished an RPG at them and took aim. The other journalists scattered. Andy stood his ground and aimed back with his camera. He just wanted to get the shot.
It was probably in Iraq where Andy both found his calling and lost himself. He lost himself in conveying the stark realities of other people, in becoming their voice, their witness. He understood it was Sisyphean, but he was Sisyphus. He couldn’t help it. Once he had escaped the filters of the privileged, soft world in which most of us live and tasted the world as it exists at the margins, he was hooked. Everything else feels trivial, unimportant. The mountains of our first-world problems become molehills next to the calamities we thoughtlessly create outside the range of our collective vision.
Iraq, Nigeria, Sudan, Senegal, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Kenya—these are the places where he found his brothers, his human compatriots and his mission in life. By the end, he could see it all clearly, and the things he saw took their toll. Our only defense is a movie camera, and it can be a very thin shield to hold back the enormity of the world. Andy told me of hiding from the Antonov bombers with refugee families in the caves of Sudan, how the children snuck out to eat the leaves off of trees, and he cried from the helplessness.
Still, he could no sooner have stopped making his films than he could have stopped the world turning; it took the worsening symptoms of Parkinson’s to do that. Just the thought of no longer being able to hold his camera steady was too much to accept.
In his final messages he encouraged me to continue my work as I set off on a new film, a new obsession. This time he was the one giving me guidance and contacts—where to stay, whom to work with. Andy had prepared the ground for me to walk. He told me he was proud of me, that I would succeed. He must already have known he wouldn’t be around to see the next film. Andy was my friend, he was my brother, he was as strong a person as I’ll likely ever know, and I will hold his determination, humor, honesty and strength inside my heart, as I know he would have wanted. Rest in peace, Andy.
James Longley is the director of award-winning documentary films including Iraq in Fragments and Sari’s Mother. James’ new film about Afghanistan, Angels Are Made of Light, opens theatrically this summer.
I had the privilege of working with Andrew Berends on his film Madina’s Dream in 2014/2015. Andy was one of the bravest people I’ve ever met. His stories of being under fire in Iraq and detained in Nigeria while working on docs were beyond crazy – but for him, it was just part of his work. He was so dedicated to telling stories of people who were struggling to survive in conflict zones, and bringing a camera into the most dangerous places on earth to show the human cost of war.
Director of Free solo, from INSTAGRAM
We have lost a wonderful friend and an important filmmaker – Andrew Berends. I first met Andy in 2006 when I saw his film Blood of my Brother. I was taken by his poignant and human images and asked our mutual friend Gwyn Welles to introduce us. We found that we had a lot in common including our passion for Africa. Andy and I went on to make 2 films together, Incorruptible and Little Troopers. We also collaborated on many other projects. We traveled throughout West Africa, Europe, Kosovo, the US and most recently he filmed with jimmy and my team on Free Solo. Andy’s intelligence, sensitivity, bravery, loyalty, strength, perfectionism and fierce sense of justice made him an excellent filmmaker and a trusted friend. Andy the images you captured and the stories you told are beautiful and critical and they will live on. Thank you for being my friend and collaborator all these years. I will miss your goofy sense of humor, your infectious hope, your gravely voice, your sensitivity, your great notes giving, your creativity, your biking outfits, your unique morning routines, your fraught but hilarious relationship stories, your unbridled passion, your exacting perfectionism, your love and your friendship. You protected me when things got tough both in and off the field. Your work was so so good. You accepted me and other friends worts and all — yet always demanded that we rise to our best selves. You required the same of yourself and that’s why you were such a good filmmaker and such a complex friend. You touched so many lives. I know the pain you felt was profound, real and relentless. I know you suffered. I can only hope you have finally found some peace and justice as you so deserve it. I’m sorry it was this way. Our community lost an amazing person. I will always love and remember you Andy. I encourage everyone to watch Andy’s remarkable films. Urk (2003) The Blood of My Brother (2005), Delta Boys (2012), Madina’s Dream (2015)
I last saw Andy a few weeks ago and am feeling devastated, like so many of you. I am very grateful for all of your memories of Andy. There’s some comfort in your words, and so I will try and share some of my memories as well.
I was lucky enough to work with Andy on three of his films. And I’m so thankful that we got to see a lot more of each other recently when he moved into my neighborhood in Berkeley, often over beers in his beautiful backyard or over post-movie dinners.
I owe my career as an editor to Andy. When we met, serendipitously through an online posting, he had recently returned from Baghdad. He didn’t have much money to pay an editor and I, having just graduated from college, had literally no experience. Andy took a chance on me. He would pay for lunch to make up for the low pay, and we’d sit and eat on the stone steps by the East River in Dumbo, listening to the trains pass overhead on the Manhattan Bridge. It was clear from the first frames of footage I saw that Andy was incredibly talented and had captured something important in his time in Iraq.
I remember the first grant we received – NYSCA, I think. We worked straight through our normal lunch hour until around 3pm, and then took off for Grimaldi’s, where we ordered a couple pizzas and got drunk on the house wine, celebrating our new funds.
Andy was perhaps the most courageous person I know, though he never thought of his actions that way. I remember when we were editing Blood of My Brother, I naively expressed frustration with him for only filming one exterior establishing shot of the main character’s house in Baghdad, despite at least a dozen shoots inside the house. It was then that Andy described laying down in the back of the car when he drove there so that no one would see the American filmmaker visiting this family – to protect them and to protect himself. Getting just that one shot was risky.
At festival Q&As for that film, he would often say that he decided to go to Iraq while Christmas shopping in a mall. He couldn’t bear that the scene in that mall was what it looked like in the US when the country was at war. He wanted to bring it home to all of us what war really meant for those experiencing it. And he was willing to literally run through gunfire to help Americans understand the human impact of the war.
A few years later, he was filming for Delta Boys, living in a rebel camp in the Niger Delta, sending drives back to New York every few weeks just in case something happened. And of course, as most of you know, it did happen. He was arrested and held for nine days. But somehow, when he landed back in New York, he didn’t seem that shaken by it all. I think he always knew it was part of the gig. And more than that, I think he felt at home in that rebel camp, finding and capturing stories few of us would dare seek out.
When I first started working with Andy, I was still too young to recognize what an important place in history and in the historical record his work would have. I couldn’t be prouder to have worked together with him on these films. In the Jewish tradition, we say, “may his memory be a blessing.” Andy’s presence was a blessing to me in many ways, and I know his memory and his work will continue to be so for many of us for a long time to come.
A time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences
Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you
I’m filled with sorrow and regret today, but also with joy as I remember the time Andy and I spent together: going to double features at the Roxie, discussing films and sharing our memories of travel and the stories of people we’d met around the world. Watching Andy pick up a camera, a mouse at an edit bay, a best friend’s child—these are moments I’ll forever cherish. A wonderful, dedicated filmmaker and friend, a loss felt by so many. Love you, Andy.
As we digest the personal loss of Andy Berends our friend, one of the best tributes is to honor Andy Berends the filmmaker. He continuously took tremendous personal risk to share untold stories of disenfranchised civilians affected by war and natural disaster around the world. The poetry of his cinematic skills was matched by his tenacity as a journalist and storyteller. In addition to his own films made in Iraq, Nigeria and South Sudan, and his amazing work for other directors across Africa, Andy recently worked on projects for the UN, UNICEF and the Red Cross in places like Indonesia, Bangaldesh and more. Andy shared this reel with me several times while it was still in progress. It gave me chills every time.
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John Burgan, Berlin, Germany
For more recent D-Word members, here is the special topic we set up back in 2008 when Andy was arrested by the military in Nigeria. Reading it through, it becomes very clear why we all thought so highly of him, and why this sudden loss feels so cruel.
Andy had an amazing eye, human being, inspiration…
I’ve known Andy since 1999 when he placed an ad in the Village Voice “looking for a Dutch speaking editor” to help him with a planned documentary about his father. Which turned into his first film Urk that I edited in 2001. He worked at Ogilvy to make money to pay me and I worked on his Avid in his apartment.
On Sept 11 he came home to show me the papers that he found in the street that blew out of the trade center.
As fellow filmmakers we shared many adventures, ups and downs in our lives.
In 2004 he was “unembedded” in Iraq filming 2 documentaries again self financed with his advertising work and I made a blog from the emails he send to me and his other friends.
Go here for Andy in his own words from 2004 when he was working in Iraq.
(scroll to bottom for chronological order)
In 2006 we hiked in the Catskills a lot with a big group of friends.