Cameraperson flexes a very wide lens

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      A documentary by Kirsten Johnson. Rating unavailable

      It takes a while to adjust to the seemingly scattershot collection of people and places encountered in this unusually constructed and exceptionally powerful documentary.

      Cameraperson stitches together footage cinematographer Kirsten Johnson shot for other people’s films, or for herself between gigs. She’s been the DOP or pivotal camera operator on gutsy, in-the-field stuff like Citizenfour, Fahrenheit 9/11, and Darfur Now. Her titles for PBS’s Independent Lens and other series have been as hard as death row and as playful as profiles of French philosopher Jacques Derrida and choreographer Elizabeth Streb.

      Consequently, her catalogue of images is drawn from everywhere, and from any emotional key or colour, and these are parcelled out in moments both intimate and grandiose. Much seems to be drawn from side stories Johnson encountered along the way, or as textural research in places briefly identified as Nigeria (to follow a local midwife), Yemen (to tour a prison), and Washington, D.C. (to work with Michael Moore). These sequences are unpredictably edited; you rarely know where things are going, or if she’ll return to that location.

      Some themes eventually emerge, and begin to connect the geographical and personal dots; many involve the primacy of the eye in uncovering partially hidden truths, and the responsibilities that come with determined observation—as well as the accidental kind. Only glimpsed a couple of times herself, the filmmaker pointedly returns to some sites and subjects, such as the Bosnian family she meets again five years after the Balkan wars, and the rural Northwest, where she finds her own mother drifting into an Alzheimer’s goodbye.

      The film, which has won top-doc honours in at least eight festivals, asks you to put aside normal strategies for organizing information. She offers what took her three decades to gather and promises that you’ll really feel most of that experience in a scant 102 minutes.