Cameraperson Screen 34 articles

Cameraperson

2016

Cameraperson Poster
  • In eschewing voiceover, the chain of argumentation can be a little heavy-handed for my taste — i.e., cutting from someone talking about death to someone giving birth in a hospital — but the overall effect is constantly surprising and stimulating... Cameraperson foregrounds the role of the documentary DP, which isn’t something you see a lot, and it made me think hard about how docs are actually made.

  • Cameraperson is certainly a collection of memorable images, but it's more so Johnson's facility with narrative, on a micro and macro level, that impresses. Ostensibly a DP's scrapbook, Cameraperson is comprised of unused footage from other people's films, which Johnson herself shot. But that work is in effect repossessed here, which means the film not only transcends its title, but also Johnson's prescribed role in her images' creation.

  • Thematic unity isn’t everything, and Cameraperson offers enough singular, rarely seen moments to compensate for the overall messiness. Johnson’s offscreen noises tell a wide-ranging story on their own, from her giggle every time something funny happens to her tiny groans when a little boy she’s filming in Bosnia—maybe 2 or 3 years old—starts playing with an ax while left unattended. (She keeps muttering “Oh, Jesus,” but she doesn’t intervene. Discuss.)

  • The great modern documentaries confront the ways in which the filmmakers themselves are implicated in the substance of their films. What many of the clips in “Cameraperson” show is the opposite—the documentary-industrial conventions that reduce the complex and personal experiences... “Cameraperson” presents a person who, from the evidence in the film, is herself much greater, in her skill, her experience, her empathy, and her passion, than the film in which she presents herself.

  • As a collection of memories, Cameraperson resonates with a unique kind of melancholy. For Johnson, the act of filming becomes a search for external meaning, and one that always leads her back home to the personal. This kind of life cycle—which fluctuates between emotions and experiences, highs and lows—never trivializes the intimacy of human interaction.

  • Soviet film theorist Dziga Vertov would surely approve of Johnson's approach — an alternate title could be "Woman With a Movie Camera" — since it turns the idea of the camera into a vessel for studying the world. A critical moment arrives early on in a scene from a documentary about Jacques Derrida, when the French philosopher looks past the camera and nails the central motif. "She sees everything," he exclaims. "We are blind."

  • Kirsten Johnson had a new film—the exceptional documentary Cameraperson—debut at Sundance this week. Johnson’s essayistic work, expertly wrought and openly personal, is a standout of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

  • [In their respective films,] Greene and Johnson don’t ask for us to see them as saviors. In fact they’re often penitent, exalting those they film in relation to their own imperfections. Realizing the flawed refractions offered by the filmmakers, we’re interested in seeing their subjects more clearly.

  • The dovetailing of the personal and the political in a nonfiction context is not a new phenomenon. Jonas Mekas’s diary films are an obvious precedent, as is the work of Chris Marker... But Cameraperson’s unique formal conception and restlessly interrogative assemblage forms a striking and, dare I say, original vision, one that sees the medium not simply as a political apparatus, but as a kind of philosophical armament with which to confront the world.

  • It’s the kind of observational footage that’s missing from many documentaries these days, because subjects have learned how to perform in front of a camera. And that’s the beauty of Johnson’s film: she has stitched together unused footage from the films she’s worked on and archived over the years, with extremely touching and formally daring results.

  • [Johnson's] best-known [work] — Fahrenheit 9/11, Derrida, This Film Is Not Yet Rated,Citizenfour — attest to the range of her work as a collaborator. But nothing in Johnson's filmography anticipates the style she's adopted on her own. Cameraperson is a memoir and a travelogue, and it often feels, with its global scope and quiet intelligence, like a companion to Chris Marker's Sans Soleil — though the methodology is unique.

  • A guiding intelligence links the movie’s images, and a fierce compassion, a trait more easily pondered when it’s not swept away on the tide of an overarching narrative.

  • ...Clips from what have to be home movies—shot both before and after the loss of her mother—begin to infiltrate the collage. All these disparate experiences, spanning years and countless miles, congeal into a remarkable self-portrait of an engaged, compassionate artist.

  • It's more than a behind-the-scenes look at Johnson’s work on some of the most politically charged documentaries of the past decade. Not only does Johnson weave in contemporary footage of her ailing mother, she also doesn’t include a voiceover or dates. In providing virtually no background to when or where a particular scene originated, the film breaks away from conventional linear narrative and offers a poetic journey through Johnson’s life.

  • Johnson’s extraordinary and poetic film accomplishes for documentary cinematography what Christian Frei’s War Photographer (2001) did for photojournalism, illuminating the complex ethical, philosophical, and political stakes behind a craft that remains mostly concealed from the lay consumer of images.

  • "The Laura Poitras / Dani Leventhal mash-up you didn't know you'd been waiting for," a called this on Twitter, only somewhat glibly. But the fact is, Cameraperson is a rare viewing experience. Not only does Kirsten Johnson bring together two forms of filmmaking (nonfiction advocacy cinema and poetic / associative diary) that typically have nothing to do with one another. She finds that the two modes can strengthen each other, making something vital and unique.

  • The camera is not just a tool, it speaks for us, it writes for us, and it’s also part of us. Cinematographer Kirsten Johnson continues the ongoing interrogation of the power of the camera in her new film, Cameraperson. A labor of love of the highest order.

  • What in a lesser documentary might have been a voyeuristic abuse of African traditions for the consumption of white ex-colonizers, here appears as a genuine moment of connection and wordless communication between dancer and filmmaker. From these moments of human contact amid often terrible circumstances emanates the joy and heart of Johnson’s cinematography and the film itself.

  • "These are the images that have marked me and leave me wondering still." That's how Kirsten Johnson prefaces Cameraperson... Leave me wondering still: Those words evoke a sense of mystery, of incompleteness, which is exactly the right frame of mind in which to watch Johnson's own mesmerizing film.

  • The film confronts the nature of seeing, being present, and dealing with memory and trauma. There's also personal footage of her mother's decline with Alzheimer's, her father, and young twins, drawing together seemingly disparate scenes with profound humanity. Johnson demonstrates that truth and objectivity are constantly shifting.

  • An elegant, startling, collage-style memoir comprising outtakes and other footage from Johnson's varied career.

  • The collage film “Cameraperson” is one of the most original, challenging, sometimes infuriating documentaries of recent times. It’s well worth seeing and arguing about, but only if you can give it your full attention and glean the internal logic that went into its construction. And once you’ve done that, you will never forget what the movie showed you, or you own guesses about why it showed it to you, and how, and why.

  • With Cameraperson, Johnson has constructed a dizzying visual memoir of her times spent on-location, ingratiating herself within communities and unfamiliar places from behind the camera.

  • The result is at once a career summation, a personal memoir and an uncommonly illuminating blooper reel. It’s also a movie of jarring yet intuitive leaps through time and space. Almost every sequence is absorbing in and of itself, but Johnson’s habit of cutting away after a few minutes or even seconds establishes a gently disruptive rhythm, even as the length and composition of each shot raises its own implicit set of ethical and philosophical questions.

  • Veteran cinematographer Kirsten Johnson’s memoir of her working life is a vital antidote to the artless exposition that constitutes so much documentary filmmaking. In a mode that’s contemplative rather than programmatic, Johnson takes a tour through her c.v., a highlight reel that becomes a kind of retroactive diary.

  • It's not merely a grab bag of images. It pulls double duty as a theoretical essay on the cinematic apparatus itself. Johnson breaks down the ludicrous cinéma vérité ideal of documentaries as ambivalent and purely observational. (“The documentarian should be as a cat on a windowsill,” acclaimed documentarian D.A. Pennebaker once said.)

  • Johnson's shots are all tightly linked by a structural device—white titles noting the location of events on black—that at first seems like no structure at all. Yet over the course of the film, Johnson constructs her collected odds and ends into an intense, incantatory experience that leaves her bare, even though she only appears once briefly onscreen. The net effect of Cameraperson leaves one realizing that to be a great cameraperson one must be a certain kind of _person_ first. Probably a great one.

  • The _meaning_ of these collected images, when taken together, is much more subtle and philosophical, ultimately less a resume than an interrogation of the power and responsibility of the camera.

  • Johnson’s powerful documentary is a fragmented story about the moral, professional and creative responsibilities one is instantly bestowed while working behind the camera. Her years of experience as a documentary cinematographer have gifted her with an array of astonishing material.

  • Kirsten Johnson (in close collaboration with editor Nels Bangerter) made the best movie of the year from fragments of other movies, finding the essence of documentary cinema in scraps and diaries. No film has more eloquently revealed the provisional, flawed, hopeful, expansive, manipulative, righteous human endeavour called documentary filmmaking.

  • Some sequences do seem to unfold with spontaneous force and symmetry. You’d struggle to find any piece of scripted drama more heated, unpredictable and finally touching than that in which a beaten Brooklyn boxer bursts from the ring, furious and heartbroken, charges back in the direction of his opponent, pursued by Johnson’s camera, and ends up in the arms of his mother. Elsewhere, however, stories tell themselves scrappily, untidily, and with uncertain meaning.

  • Shots that feature fumbling and reframing are integrated the way a confident painter builds a picture around bare canvas, loose brushwork, spattered drips. And there’s... a nagging question implicit in the most searching documentaries as well as the most trivial: At what point does the camera’s scrutiny become exploitative, invasive, damaging? The question hovers throughout the film, despite Johnson’s evident gift for putting people at ease, respecting the pressure and pain of true confession.

  • The grounding presence is Johnson, whose status as a cameraperson becomes the film's thematic core, adopting the perspective the professional observer instead of the person in charge. Johnson's footage is especially compelling because of the nature of her work, which has taken her to war zones and other global hotspots. Though the film lacks actual instances of battle, it's infused with the tension of buildup and aftermath.

  • In one scene in Kirsten Johnson’s Cameraperson, we see a USB stick being thrown into a concrete mixer. Shot while making Citizenfour with director Laura Poitras, we watch as it is laid into the concrete floor and buried. We don’t know if the contents of at least part of the drive were released by Edward Snowden. We can only imagine that some of those images, data, and reports have disappeared. This shot and the worries it evokes echo throughout Johnson’s remarkable film.

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