By Logan Schurr
For this blog, I watched the documentary, Cameraperson. The film is very unique in that it doesn’t follow a structure. The cinematographer, Kirsten Johnson, calls it her memoir. “These are images that have marked me and leave me wondering still,” Katherine wrote at the beginning of the film. It is a collection of footage she used for various other documentaries she made from all around the world. From Bosnia, to Nigeria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Missouri, Brooklyn, and Texas, Kirsten covers various environments, situations, and she encounters a vast array of people. Really, there is no thematic tie between these locations or people, as they were taken from various other documentaries. This unique structure made it difficult to find an argument, however, it subtly makes a strong claim about humanity and the importance of capturing life. The overall purpose was to show how similar all humans’ struggles are, regardless of their environment or culture. Though the purpose is not outright stated, I’ll use context, audience, purpose, and point of view to analyze why it is still extremely compelling.
The context of this film is fairly rudimentary, however, I think that adds to the elegance of the film’s style. Kirsten Johnson, an award-winning cinematographer, has been the artist behind 48 documentary films. She used footage from her past films to put together this one. Whether that be outtakes, b-roll, interviews, or action shots, she captured the human condition. Her purpose, as I stated before, was shown at the beginning of the film; “I originally shot the following footage for other films, but here I ask you to see it as my memoir. These are images that have marked me and leave me wondering still.”
Her audience has no limit. The film is available on Netflix, iTunes, and for free on Amazon Prime. To me, this shows how accessible she wanted this film to be, anticipating a large audience. According to IMDb’s statistics, it did just that. Both males and females, ages 18-45+ all rated the film 7.0-7.9. They were all pretty equal in their viewing. As a new style of documentary, I don’t think it turns a particular group away nor encourages a specific group to watch it. This equality was effective, as proven by its 22 won awards with 32 nominations.
Speaking of purpose, this film was so creative in how it achieved its purpose because of it’s innovative style. There was no call to action and it wasn’t really just a spew of information. It was simply capturing unrelated experiences and leaving it up to the audience to decide the action to take place. Though the speakers were unnamed and ranged from war victims, rape survivors, African midwives, shepards, parents, boxers, and children, their lifestyles served as their credibility. For example, the rape victim from Bosnia, though we only saw her hands, had credibility in her situation which appealed to ethics. The main appeal Johnson utilized was pathos. Very extreme pathos. For example, the images of the filmmakers interviewing a woman before her abortion and only filming her hands. The lieutenant admitting he’ll be sent to prison soon for not agreeing to go back to Iraq. This film was filled with unrelated stories, yet equally powerful moments exposing the human spirit. This, and revealing how they cope was the strongest way to achieve the film’s purpose of equalizing human struggle and the need to capture it.The point of view was obviously Kirsten Johnson, but she offered little commentary. The few times she spoke was to enhance the camera angle or ask about filming limitations. She served as an unbiased eye to observe this image of humanity. This also lends itself to attracting all audiences and promoting homology.
I think the film did a very impressive job of illustrating a unique message. It was beautifully executed and it portrayed a very uncommon theme. I am giving this film a 4.5 rating because it successfully achieved its goal in an artistic way, but it did not call to action. I think it would have inspired a better audience response if there was a statement about how humans face and cope with challenges.