In October 2017, POV asked Cameraperson filmmaker Kirsten Johnson what's happened since the cameras stopped rolling.
In the process of making the film and going through old footage, was there anything that surprised you?
I can say that absolutely everything surprised me and the reveals keep coming! In going back through footage I shot so many years ago, I was shocked to find that I recognized the eyes of just about every person I have ever filmed. It was a revelation to see the evidence of people and places that no longer exist and to realize that I have been IN HISTORY all along. I certainly didn't expect to find so many traces of myself in the footage. I was amazed to learn about how my brain had compartmentalized my experiences and how it responded like a trickster when I tried to look back and unpack. My short-term memory had almost stopped functioning when I first started working on the project and it has returned and transformed in ways that blow my mind. My understanding of the ways in which trauma, whether primary or secondary, ripples throughout the bodies, minds, families and land are mysteries I will continue to explore. And I can't stop marveling at the many contradictory powers of moving images.
How has the film been received throughout the world?
The range of receptions of audiences and critics around the world has been astonishing to me because all kinds of people relate to it in so many ways I could have never imagined. A young woman in England called it a "love-letter", an older man in Poland said that the film's edit structure resembles the way Alzheimer's changes the brain, a critic compared it to the work of Chris Marker by calling it "Avec Soleil", and one of my favorite moments was when a young Turkish man told me that he thinks about films as genres of music, and when I asked him, "What's Cameraperson?", he said "Death Metal!" I am very proud that Cameraperson was named one of the Top Ten Films of 2016 by The Washington Post and The New York Times. It premiered at Sundance, was short-listed for an Academy Award, won the National Board of Review "Freedom of Expression" prize, and won the Cinema Eye Outstanding Nonfiction Feature Award, all of which are true honors because of how much I respect my peers and the films that have come before. I am especially happy to have the film premiere on POV and be distributed by Janus Films as a part of The Criterion Collection.
How have other cinematographers and documentarians reacted to the film?
What has been especially moving to me has been the response of many cinematographers, some of whom are a generation older than me, who really see their own experiences reflected and recognized in the film. Soundpeople, who are often even more invisible than camerapeople, have said again and again how thrilled they are that the work that so many of us -- from the translators to the drivers to the soundpeople to the camerapeople -- do on films that usually goes unseen and under-appreciated by audiences is celebrated and interrogated in Cameraperson in ways that really matter to them.
What effect do you expect the accessibility of smartphones will have on your craft?
Because so many people have phones and can film with them, I believe we will have a growth in visual literacy and a more urgent collective understanding of both the possibilities and dilemmas of filming other people. The other effect that I am deeply curious about is how what can be filmed now will change our understanding of the world. Some events are so rare or so deliberately hidden that very very few people ever see them. But now that everyone has cameras, such moments are being recorded and distributed for all to see. Veils are being lifted from our eyes and it is changing us.
What do you want audiences to take away from the film?
I hope the experience of watching the film is powerful enough to fill them with questions and to wish to share the experience with others.
What are you working on now?
I am working on a film about the unexpected. Death is the ultimate unexpected. I am collaborating with my father to make a comedic film using stunt people as well as observational documentary techniques, in which my dad will die and come back to life many times until he really dies as a way of exploring cinematic language, time travel, and love.