Film Review: Cameraperson (USA, 2016) is an artistic look at the world of documentary filmmaking & cinematography

Cameraperson shines a light on the individual behind the camera. In this case it is cinematographer, Kirsten Johnson, a woman with some 25 years’ experience in the movie-making business. She’s also known for having worked on films like Fahrenheit 9/11 and Citizenfour, among others. Cameraperson is a documentary that lets the footage speak for itself with varying degrees of success and at its best is an illuminating look at the world of documentary filmmaking.

This film is basically a visual collage of assembled outtakes and pieces that were left on the cutting room floor but still prove important to Johnson after all these years. The locations are listed for each scene but no other important information is offered (for example, the year the video was short or any other details regarding the context). A list of films that this footage was shot for is included during the closing credits but in some cases this seems like information that has come too little, too late. The result is a kind of hodgepodge of different things although some themes about important elements in life like births, deaths and relationships do tend to emerge.

This documentary is a clever and inventive one because it makes the viewer ask their own questions about the role of the filmmaker, especially with respect to ethics, impartiality and objectivity. In some cases it is very obvious that Johnson is connecting with the subjects like in the case of a single female about to have an abortion in America, an Afghani boy who has lost his sight in one eye and the victims of rape and witnesses to other atrocities like ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. There are other moments that are especially intimate with Johnson showing footage of her parents and twin children. The scenes with her mother show her parent’s increasing signs of confusion due to Alzheimer’s and in one video Johnson makes a brief cameo opposite her Mum.

Cameraperson is a fun hybrid of different ideas and visuals. It’s an unusual and poetic tale that is full of varied subjects and at some points it also has a very atmospheric tone. A little more context may have made things a bit more powerful but as it stands, Cameraperson does provide some opportunities for some frank discussions about filmmaking because it shows all of its subjects in their natural environments and in rare, unfiltered glory.

Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Cameraperson screens at Melbourne’s ACMI cinemas from February 23. There’ll be a special Q&A screening co-presented with AIDC & DocPlay at 6.10PM on Sunday 26 February. For more information and tickets please click HERE.