Truth At The Highest Level: Our Review of ‘Cameraperson’

Posted in Hot Docs 2016, Movies, Theatrical by - December 16, 2016

I’ll be the first to admit that those random moments of our lives that don’t always make sense in the moment are more important than most of us realize as they make up the genuine essence of the human in experience.  With long time cinematographer Kirsten Johnson sliding over to the director’s chair to make Cameraperson we get a stunning look at the dynamic between the documentarian and their subjects and what the footage unfurling out on the screen tells us about the person behind the camera.

At first glance these things don’t seem like they are connected with any kind of thread.  A boxing match in Brooklyn; life in postwar Bosnia and Herzegovina; the daily routine of a Nigerian midwife; an intimate family moment at home and many more but they do.   These scenes are delicately woven into Cameraperson, an immense mosaic of footage collected over the twenty-five-year career of documentary cinematographer Kirsten Johnson. Through a series of episodic juxtapositions, Johnson explores the relationships between image makers and their subjects, the tension between the objectivity and intervention of the camera, and the complex interaction of unfiltered reality and crafted narrative, which end up becoming a deeply personal work where we look at both the highs and the lows of being a person who is always pointing a camera on the world, even her own.

Having stumbled upon this late last year’s edition of the Hot Docs Festival that hits the screens of Toronto every year I was simply floored and this critic is even more so now.  Cameraperson is probably the first film that allows us to feel what the person on the other side of the camera might be dealing with it and it makes for such a raw and honest exploration of the human spirit that you simply can’t look away from it.

Sure it’s segments from many of her other projects all strung together, but don’t for one second think that anything in this film is random.  With two consulting writers; Doris Baizley and Lisa Freedman both in on the project with Johnson they allow for a story to be told in the moments that have been documented and witnessed and the subsequent responsibility of bearing witness with a camera at these times.  It is a testament to Johnson herself who has dedicated her life to getting some of these difficult shots and being savvy enough to not only be a documentarian, but to be able to sell the narrative of these visuals the way that she feels they should be told and not necessarily in post production after the fact.

In many ways this film is the definition or dare I say epitome of the purpose of the moving image.  Not only to document what happens but to be able to use these documented moments in ways that transcend on levels beyond the action of the subjects on the screen.  Cameraperson is quite simply exceptionally thoughtful art that is executed on the highest level and is easily one of the best films of the entire year.

  • Release Date: 12/16/2016
This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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