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Review: ‘Cameraperson’ examines life behind the lens

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

A life behind the lens is examined in “Cameraperson,” a fascinating, purposely disjointed documentary from director Kirsten Johnson.

Johnson is a cinematographer who has worked on scores of documentaries over the course of her 25-year career, including Oscar winners “Fahrenheit 9/11” and “Citizenfour.” “Cameraperson” is assembled from the outtakes of two dozen of her films, and what at first seems like a grab bag of clips turns out to tell a startlingly intimate tale of humanity.

Scenes are laid out like a mixtape: A Ferris wheel spinning at high speeds in Afghanistan, a boy playing with an ax in Bosnia, the sun hitting a pool of blood on the floor of a delivery room in Nigeria, a boxer hugging his mother after losing a bout in Brooklyn. They all tell a short story, even though we don’t know the players. They are scenes of life and they resonate because they’re universal.

“Cameraperson” works much like memory works: It hops around indiscriminately, flashing here and there without much connective tissue. The constant is Johnson; at times you hear her breathing behind her lens, and at one point she inadvertently shakes the camera when she sneezes. She comes out from behind the camera just once, in a scene where she’s talking to her mother, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and was struggling to understand her connection to her daughter.

Johnson positioned “Cameraperson” as her memoir, and she shares her story through the people and places she’s filmed. In her approach, she adheres to the number one rule of storytelling: She shows, not tells.

(313) 222-2284




Not rated

Running time: 103 minutes

At The Detroit Film Theatre