Considering how many hours of film go into your average documentary, it stands to reason that there are some very pretty pictures that we never see. Sometimes when one takes a step back and arranges the photography ‘just so’, a whole new set of themes and ideas come through.
CAMERAPERSON isn’t a documentary with a narrative as much as it is a visual quilt made up of where Kristen Johnson has gone in her life and what she has seen. As a woman behind the lens for documentaries as seminal as CITIZENFOUR, THE INVISIBLE WAR, THE OATH, HAPPY VALLEY and FAHRENHEIT 9/11, Johnson has captured some indelible imagery in her career. Obviously, it couldn’t all be used for the projects at-hand, but often what is left aside still holds a great deal of emotion and introspection.
A sense of family permeates what unfolds in CAMERAPERSON, helped in no small part by personal footage of Johnson’s children and her mother. These glimpses into the life of the artist help to underscore the meaning in the art. Whether it’s a mother who consoles her feisty son after he loses a high-profile boxing match, or a daughter who becomes so frustrated with her mother’s lot in life that she trashes her possessions, it’s clear that there are emotions that unite us all. This is a film that contains a wide range of dialects and accents, and yet these familial bonds transcend all of them.
The wonderful flourish to the work is the way Johnson’s fingerprints are occasionally visible within the film. Whether it’s an audible sneeze she seems to hold back after filming a bolt of lightning on the horizon, or an audible expression of worry in the presence of a newborn baby struggling with its first minutes on this planet, they create a feeling of warmth to go along with the pretty pictures. It’s rare that we sense these sort of hesitations in a documentarian, which make them rather special to encounter.
They remind us that the greatest images we encounter in film are a credit to the person behind the camera…not the camera itself.
CAMERAPERSON is a powerful and gorgeous mosaic of visuals. It’s a concept that often lends itself to the avant-garde, but what Johnson has created is something far more personal and loving. It is a personal journey caught in glimpses out the train window as it rattles across the landscape, and despite it being the culmination of more than twenty projects, it is – remarkably – a truly singular piece.
CAMERAPERSON premieres at Hot Docs 2016 tomorrow – Monday, May 2nd, 6:15pm at The Scotiabank Theatre. It shows again on Tuesday, May 3rd – 2:45pm at The Lightbox. It then plays The Lightbox once more on Saturday May 7th – 6:15pm (official website)