Cameraperson (2016)

casey This is the least funny outtakes reel I have ever seen.

brooke HA. That’s actually a pretty decent review right there. We’re done. Let’s post this sucker and go home now.
Or maybe instead we could talk about the human story that slowly comes into view as you watch it.

casey For real, though, Cameraperson is a fascinating experience. It’s a documentary with no particular topic or narrative, spliced together from various projects cinematographer/director Kirsten Johnson has worked on throughout her career. As a result, she becomes the film’s subject in a completely unique way, even though we rarely see her onscreen and learn very little about her personally. In movie theater setting it feels incredibly compelling. And honestly, I don’t know if it would work anywhere else.

brooke The result could have been a jarring mess of footage, but as things progress Johnson feels less like a subject and more like a surrogate. Her part in the experiences, like the audience’s, is limited mostly to observing.
Of course, the observation is what makes the film so lovely, and I was struck at how much it felt like reliving old memories.

casey The footage includes interviews of a Muslim family in postwar Bosnia, pretrial footage from a hate crime in Texas, and a massacre site in Rwanda, all heavy stuff. There are also shorter snippets like Jacques Derrida walking down a street, Michael Moore on the steps of the US capital, excerpts from an Edward Snowden interview, and, one of my favorites, a boxer being comforted by his mother after losing a fight. Many scenes capture moments in between what a normal documentary might show: sound checks, banter, faces in repose, pauses before answering questions. Midway through Johnson also begins splicing in home movie footage of her mother dealing with dementia and then dying. The story, such as it is, emerge from the ordinary, sometimes joyful moments in the midst of world-shattering trauma.

brooke It’s almost like we’re watching an entire stream of consciousness play out, like how a train of thought might jump from a book to an actor to a dance scene to an inside joke in a way that makes no sense on the surface but has some deeper meaning below the surface.

casey Which is all to say, Cameraperson is unlike anything I’ve watched before. By now it’s out of theaters, but whatever the venue it deserves, and rewards, undivided attention.

brooke Agreed, mostly because what you take away from it may very well be completely different from our impressions. With any luck, it’ll get a couple of Oscar nods and pop up in theaters again, so anyone who missed it can see it there.


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