“For the past 25 years I’ve worked as a documentary cinematographer. I originally shot the following footage for other films, but here I ask you to see it as my memoir. These are the images that have marked me and leave me wondering still.” (Kirsten Johnson)
What does it mean to film another person? How does it affect that person—and what does it do to the one who films?
Kirsten Johnson has been the eyes and mind behind some of the most iconic documentary films ever made. Her work with Laura Poitras (Citizenfour), Michael Moore (Fahrenheit 9/11) among many others has arguably moved documentary cinema into the public eye in an entirely new way. At the heart of Johnson’s approach are humility, curiosity and a certain brand of American humanism. Whether she is shooting nurse midwives in an obstetrics clinic in Nigeria or a boxing match in New York City, Johnson brings a virtuosity of technique and an easy open manner—people address her camera like they were having a conversation with a friend. But the cost of documenting human suffering and tragedy comes at a price, as scenes on both a grand scale (genocide) and a much smaller level make clear. In a sequence that captures a newborn baby’s struggle for breath, you hear Johnson’s agonized comments off-camera. Episodes drawn from Johnson’s family life, her twins and her elderly mother who is suffering from dementia add another dimension, as her camera becomes a means of fixing time and keeping people alive in some ineffable way.
Cameraperson could function as a masterclass in documentary filmmaking, as Johnson discusses shot setups with directors like Moore or Poitras. But more importantly, Johnson reveals through her own eyes the very nature of perception, of what it means to be alive and seeing the world.
A work that combines documentary, autobiography and ethical inquiry, Cameraperson is both a moving glimpse into one filmmaker’s personal journey and a thoughtful examination of what it means to train a camera on the world.
“All this could have easily become a cacophony of disconnected sights and sounds, but Cameraperson unfolds with beauty and purpose—mixing the fluidity of a dream with the acuity of an essay. Johnson teases out themes and finds echoes across the years.” (Bilge Ebiri, Village Voice)
“Humanity permeates Cameraperson, thanks to Johnson’s presence, so as experimental as it is, it’s also stirring and poignant, with a tangible sense of empathy intact in every frame.” (Katie Walsh, The Playlist)