"These are the images that have marked me and leave me wondering still." That's how Kirsten Johnson prefaces Cameraperson, made up of footage she has collected over 25 years of working as a camera operator, cinematographer and director on dozens of different documentaries — films like Laura Poitras' The Oath (2010) and Citizenfour (2014) and Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004). Leave me wondering still: Those words evoke a sense of mystery, of incompleteness, which is exactly the right frame of mind in which to watch Johnson's own mesmerizing film.
The director has set herself a near-impossible task: to craft a cinematic memoir through snippets of other people's stories and lives. While often lovely, a lot of this material looks like discards: an empty patch of road, a field of flowers, a camera quaking while the operator adjusts the tripod. Other times, we get something more involved: a midwife in a Nigerian clinic attempting to keep fragile newborn twins alive. A Golden Gloves boxer in Brooklyn preparing for a fight. Two Balkan activists talking about their own PTSD, the byproduct of hearing so many survivors' testimonials.
All this could have easily become a cacophony of disconnected sights and sounds, but Johnson guides us into her footage in subtle ways. She draws our attention not just to what we're seeing, but how we're seeing it. It encourages us to wonder how a camera operator navigates personal space in tense, intimate, emotionally fraught situations. Cameraperson unfolds with beauty and purpose -- mixing the fluidity of a dream with the acuity of an essay.