Kirsten Johnson has spent 25 filming other people’s documentaries. With CAMERAPERSON, she uses the outtakes of those films, as well as new footage of her family, to make a film that is much more than the sum of its parts. When I spoke with the ebullient and thoughtful filmmaker on September 30, 2016, we talked about the responsibility she feels when being trusted by the subjects in front of her camera, as well as the tricks that memory can play on us all, how people have changed in front of a camera over the years with the advent of phone cameras, and why the first cut of her film was dubbed the “trauma cut”.
We started, though, with her work with one of her longtime collaborators, Oscar™-winning director Laura Poitras, not on a film, but one an art installation designed to show us just how pervasively invasive electronic surveillance is in our everyday lives.
CAMERAPERSON compiles 25 years of outtakes she has shot as the cinematographer for documentary filmmakers such as Dawn Porter, Amir Bar-Lev, Laura Poitras, and Michael Moore, as well as more intimate footage of her family. Juxtaposing scenes that combine tragedy and a resilient humor, CAMERAPERSON is a cinematic memoir that plays as stream-of-consciousness as it reveals the art and science of filmmaking, and the relationship between the people on either side of Johnson’s camera. Johnson has been the principle cinematographer on over 40 feature-length documentaries, as well as having credits on a slew of others. She was also involved in Poitras’ installation piece on surveillance.