Experimenting with Cameras Behind and In Front of the Lens: All Light Everywhere Makes You Question Perspective
Film: All Light, Everywhere
Director: Theo Anthony
Category: Feature – U.S. Documentary
Award: U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award – Nonfiction Experimentation
Theo Anthony’s follow up to the critically acclaimed RAT FILM is no letdown. This experimental take on documentary filmmaking forces the audience to consider: is any perspective, even a mechanical perspective like a camera, truly objective? The answer, in short, is no. However, All Light, Everywhere takes that question to new heights by examining the intersections of law enforcement, surveillance, and cameras throughout history and the impact that false sense of objectivity is having on us today.
This film focuses on 4 key components of how cameras exist in our modern society and throughout history; how we view our own perspective with a focus group being studied with a vision tracking software, how the tools law enforcement use can create a false narrative of an objective perspective with the U.S’s largest body camera manufacturing company, how police view their own perspective with a body camera training class with Baltimore police, and how perspective can be invasive with an aerial surveillance company. The film also examines the history of the camera and why the terminology we use in relation to law enforcement surveillance and behavior is so similar to the language we use when discussing cameras.
The film moves non-linearly between each of these four components, interweaving these pieces with the history of cameras and surveillance to provide context. When viewing the tracking Why do we say we’re “shooting” with a camera? Because one of the oldest cameras was the photographic revolver, an invention in the shape of a shotgun in which the trigger was used to expose the film through the barrel of the gun, and the chronophotographic rifle was the first movie camera with a design inspired by a Gatling gun. The false idea that cameras are objective throughout history still impacts us today. Cameras are not inherently objective because we, human beings with perspectives and biases, are still the ones operating the device.
This idea carries through a tour given of Axon, the largest body camera and taser manufacturer in the U.S. Throughout the tour, though the spokesperson from Axon repeatedly says that body cameras are supposed to be used to provide an objective perspective in a police interaction for juries and the justice system to review, he constantly disproves that notion when explaining the technology and hardware. Body cameras are not objective. The range of light a body camera can process is limited to be similar to the human eye so that the body camera never shows something an officer did not see with their limited perspective (e.g. body cameras do not have infrared night vision because it may show a mistake an officer makes when shooting in a dark place). The body camera uses a wide-angle lens with makes objects, and people, appear closer
and makes any movement appear more severe than it really was. The body camera itself is mounted to the body of the police officer, meaning that you only see what is happening in front of the officer, but you cannot see the officer themselves in the video. All of these things can leave out critical information or show a misleading narrative to a jury when examining a case of police brutality. Even when in the body camera training class with the Baltimore Police Department, the way in which the training is taught leans towards the bias that the cameras were built with. Body cameras are not inherently objective because they are built and operated by humans, including humans in law enforcement who have a very specific narrative to give when presenting evidence.
The film replicates these concepts when talking about aerial surveillance company Persistent Surveillance Systems (PSS), a live aerial drone footage technology that was illegally used by the Baltimore Police Department to run surveillance on the general public without authorization from the City of Baltimore. PSS founder Ross McNutt is shown throughout the film explaining his technology (it’s like a live version of Google Earth that can be used to track people and cars, Mcnutt explains) and trying to convince a Black community group in Baltimore to use his technology as private citizens to increase safety in the community. Ultimately, these community members come to the conclusion that they don’t want to be watched because they can’t trust who the information will be given to, how it would be used, and there is no proof it would make their community truly safer. Aerial surveillance is not objective either because there is still the influence of bias and intent of the user.
This film has such important concepts to share, but the film is dense, it’s a very heady documentary. Connecting the ideas may not be clear to those who are hesitant about the criticism the film is making in relation to law enforcement and surveillance. So much of this film is so well done, the historical context, the framing of ideas, even the score by composer Dan Deacon is so well made for this film. However, because the film is experimental in nature, I suspect the likelihood of a mass positive reception is low, both because the film wanders through the topic and because of the subject matter.
All Light, Everywhere has a critical message to share: nothing is truly objective, not even a machine when it comes to viewing perspective, especially in the context of law enforcement and surveillance. We are all impacted by our own perspectives, but so are the tools that we use to create a false sense of objectivity. While Theo Anthony and crew create a very compelling documentary, the film may not be conceptually accessible to all viewers, making All Light, Everywhere an interesting film, but limited in reach.
Review Score: 3/5
Where Can You Watch: No details on where you can watch yet, but the film’s production company, MEMORY, has info on the film you can follow up with as more info is released: https://memory.is/all-light-everywhere
Bonus content: Check out the Q&A with director Theo Anthony, composer Dan Deacon, and the film’s producers. Anthony breaks down the process of how this film was put together and what it took to get the footage they were able to capture, as well as Dan Deacon’s musical
process for the film’s unnerving score. Watch here