Cameraperson (2016)
March 1, 2017 7:43 AM - Subscribe

Exposing her role behind the camera, Kirsten Johnson reaches into the vast trove of footage she has shot over decades around the world. What emerges is a visually bold memoir and a revelatory interrogation of the power of the camera.

An interview with Kirsten Johnson at Film Comment.

An hour-long interview from DP/30: The Oral History of Hollywood.

Hannah McGill (Sight & Sound): "So this scrapbook of footage drawn from Johnson’s 25 years as a documentary ‘cameraperson’ shuffles and throws up fleeting moments that together form an exploration of how art and ‘real life’ interact, how memories form and what it means to bear witness. As it weaves through her filming experiences in her native United States, in Nigeria, Liberia and Rwanda, in Bosnia and Afghanistan – sometimes providing full context for interviews or observational material, sometimes letting the audience wonder or guess – the film emphasises the human element in cinematography."

Jamie S. Rich (Criterion Confessions): "It’s not just the narratives that start to come into view, however, but the titular cameraperson, as well. Since these are unedited takes, we witness Johnson setting up her shots, and also her blowing them. We hear her planning her next move, asking for clarification, or simply letting her guard down to talk to a boxing coach or ask a soldier for some watermelon. Perhaps the most endearing detail is in the credits sequence, when she sneezes while watching the storm roll in, and her sneezing shakes the camera. There is much here to dissect about the act of cinematic observation, and the right to observe. French philosopher Jacques Derrida, in an outtake from the 2002 Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering film Derrida, provides Johnson with a perfect moment. With her gaze so focused, he wonders, does she see much at all? He likens her to the philosopher who fell down a well because he was too busy looking up at the stars to spot the hole."

Tim Brayton (Alternate Ending): "At any rate, the flow of images is powerfully evocative even when it's not clear what they're evoking, always suggesting how Johnson associates image with meaning, and implying her feelings about her footage without necessarily requiring that we feel the same way. The moments with her family, of a certainty, mean more to her than they could possibly mean to us, but it's nonetheless moving to understand what she feels towards her sick mother, especially when they show up on camera together (the only time in the film we see Johnson's face, 95 minutes into a 102-minute film), and understand that for her, this is as much a part of the world to be recorded and preserved as the stories of the women from Foča, or the revelations of Edward Snowden. This is, after all, an autobiography, however strange a form it takes: it is the story of what Kirsten Johnson knows and thinks, and how she engages with the world."

posted by sapagan (3 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
This is a fantastic film. Highly recommended.
posted by vibrotronica at 2:24 PM on March 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

This was so good. I really didn't know what to expect, but hot damn. I still think about it often even years after having seen it. I still don't think I've fully wrapped my hands around what it means, but it's pretty amazing.
posted by Carillon at 1:26 AM on February 26, 2022

Just watched (on Criterion and I think also HBO right now?). Found very resonant. In my work I encounter quite a bit of human suffering and also just walking around seeing people living on the street, seeing the impacts of drought and climate warming, I often have this mild shock that I'm unable to put words to, that this film evoked for me. I feel she does't always ascribe meaning to what she's witnessing, but that is especially resonant for me: it's unclear what the meaning is, if there is any, of much of what we encounter.
posted by latkes at 1:55 PM on October 29, 2022

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