You might not get to see this film any time soon, but put it on your radar. Kirsten Johnson has been cinematographer for some of the world's most influential and celebrated documentaries: the Oscar-winning Citizenfour, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, This Film Is Not Yet Rated, The Invisible War, and many more.
But what she's crafted in Cameraperson is something I've never seen: a visual memoir plucked from the cutting room floor. Johnson puts together footage that didn't make the film from her archive, preceded only by location and date, and thus creates a sort of memoir without narration, a story of her life in images juxtaposed against one another. Sometimes similar images are placed against one another—a sequence where she follows people walking, all over the world, plays like a realization of the director's own interests.
From Jacques Derrida in cityscapes to villages in Afghanistan, Cameraperson is less a greatest hits and more a dip into memory; it preserves what makes film not-writing—the visual element—while also drawing on what's important about memoir: that it's less about “what happened” and more about our memories. The juxtapositions of time and location create meaning in ways that are often startling, even riveting.
You're getting a look at Johnson's life, but much more, you're left contemplating how the things you experience every day—the things you see and feel and say—reflect upon both past and future. Cameraperson is a marvelous film, and I plan to watch it again and again.
Alissa Wilkinson is Christianity Today’s critic at large and an associate professor of English and humanities at The King’s College in New York City. She is co-author, with Robert Joustra, of How to Survive the Apocalypse: Zombies, Cylons, Faith, and Politics at the End of the World (Eerdmans). She tweets @alissamarie.