DVD Review - Cameraperson

Kirsten Johnson has worked as a cinematographer or a camera-person for 25 years. She has been involved with dozens of films, mostly documentaries. For this movie, she has taken footage from 24 of those documentaries and has edited them together with new footage to make this memoir. It's constructed in a similar way as Kevin MacDonald's Life in a Day. Video from random sources is united to convey certain emotions. It's ostensibly a collection of memorable moments that made the cutting room floor, and a lot of it is pretty meaningless at first.

She catches a lightning flash, which is pretty rare unless one is willing to camp out for hours. Maybe that's the takeaway. For men or women behind the lens, there's either a need to be patient or be extremely lucky, especially when filming nonfiction. Later, Johnson shows an outtake where her sneeze is caught, the noise and the frame shake. It happens perhaps as a reminder that these images aren't just magically brought to the screen. There's a person there too, watching and who is personally affected by what she sees or the environment that she's in.

There are moments when that is most obvious. Those moments are when we hear Johnson's voice, sometimes commenting on the situation. Yet, Johnson's voice is never clearer when she's not speaking but in her returning to certain footage over and over. She separates the footage by where it's filmed, the location, and the one location that's revisited is Bosnia.

Johnson crafts a montage of various places where atrocities or mass destruction occurred. She takes us to Wounded Knee to Tahrir Square to Hotel Africa to the World Trade Center. Yet, Bosnia and the Bosnian War are what is her central concern. Her footage captures specifically sites in Bosnia where women were raped in groups. She definitely wants people to remember, as she herself wants to remember, the horror, but there's also something else within that horror she also wants us to see.

She notes the horror for sure, but most of her footage is happy and peaceful. Johnson has a point of focusing on the beautiful too. It's not just pretty landscapes but people. Her montage of following people as they walk is indicative of that. At once, it's just a consequence of documentary filmmaking that one has to follow people as they walk. It's a consequence of little importance to the average viewer.

Besides a tiny peak behind the curtain, Johnson takes the opportunity to be a tad indulgent. She includes footage of her ailing mother prior to her death. For Johnson, it's a walk down memory lane. For the viewers, it's sentimentality that seems rather manipulative than vital. The rest of the footage cobbled makes for interesting trailers for Johnson's documentaries. If one is well-versed in the world of documentary films, a lot of what's seen will be familiar. If not, the list of 24 films are in the credits.

Based on the pieces Johnson drops, she teases five of those 24 films really well. If one is curious, the five films are as follows:

I Came To Testify is about mass rape in Bosnia. The Edge of Joy is about a Nigerian maternity ward. Two Towns of Jasper is about the murder of James Byrd, Jr. Happy Valley is about the scandal at Penn State University, and Fahrenheit 9/11 is Michael Moore's critique of George W. Bush and the War in Iraq.

If this movie gets you to see any of those films in particular, or perhaps the list of 24, then it would have succeeded. By itself, it's not much more than a great advertisement for those films.

Not Rated but contains language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 42 mins.


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