Written, directed, shot, and starring Kirsten Johnson, Cameraperson is an autobiographical documentary film about Johnson’s life as a cinematographer told through collages and footage that she shot. The film is a look into a woman’s life and work told by Johnson herself as she explores her worth as a cinematographer. The result is a rapturous and captivating film about a woman’s life captured through her work and on her life at home.
Told in the span of nearly 15-20 years and on various countries working as a cinematographer for both feature films and documentaries, the film revolves around the life of Kirsten Johnson and the things she encountered in her many journeys around the world. It’s a film that doesn’t have a narrative but rather a lot of fragmented stories based on the footage that Johnson had filmed including an unused excerpt from Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 where Moore and a soldier are having a conversation about the latter’s oath that he had to sign with Johnson asking a few questions. Johnson doesn’t appear in the film herself except for one little moment involving her late mother late in the film as much of her focus is on whoever or whatever she’s filming. Among them are scenes set in Sarajevo and Foca, Bosnia where she meets a family with women who are still recovering from what happened to them at the war as she would meet them again five years later as she showed them the footage she filmed with them including the old woman making bread as she’s still kicking while smoking a cigarette.
The film also has Johnson going into life in Africa such as a couple of women cutting a tree in Darfur having been exiled from their home while a midwife is tending to an ailing newborn at a hospital. There is also footage of Johnson filming excerpts of footage relating to a trial over the death of an African-American who was dragged to death by a truck as well as talking to a half-blind boy in Afghanistan. The footage shows the actual chain that was used as it adds to some of the dark things that Johnson had filmed including some of the things that occur in parts of Africa and in Bosnia. With the help of editors Nels Bangerter and Amanda Laws as well as sound designer Eric Milano in cultivating all of the sound she had captured, Johnson uses a lot of the footage the she captured where it’s not just showing some of things she sees around the world but also at home.
Notably in footage relating to her mother who is suffering from dementia before her death as well as at her childhood home with her father and her twin children as it showcases some of the lighter moments of the film. The film’s music by Wellington Bowler, Carla Kihlstedt, and Dino Residbegovic, with vocals by Kathryn Bostic, does play into some of the film’s somber moments with its mixture of ambient and classical-based music. Particularly in the scenes set in Bosnia as it relate to places where mass graves were once held yet there is this feeling like a world is being rebuilt to create something that is hopeful.
Cameraperson is a phenomenal film from Kirsten Johnson. It is an unconventional yet exhilarating documentary film that has a woman tell her life story as a camera operator/cinematographer through some of the footage that she filmed in her own life but also in the people she meets. Even as it showcases her encounter with people who have suffered through the worst things in the world but managed to survive and live their lives. In the end, Cameraperson is a sensational film from Kirsten Johnson.
Related: (Dick Johnson is Dead)
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