October 4th, 2017

Cameraperson [2016]

Please join us for a special screening of Kirsten Johnson’s Cameraperson [2016] at Squeaky Wheel Film & Media Arts Center. This event is a collaboration with POV, PBS’ award-winning nonfiction film series.

  • Screening Date: Wednesday, October 4th, 2017 | 7:00pm
  • Venue: Squeaky Wheel Film & Media Arts Center
  • Specifications: 2016 / 102 minutes / English / Color
  • Director(s): Kirsten Johnson
  • Print: Supplied by POV
  • Tickets: Free and Open to the Public

Event Sponsors:

Venue Information:

Market Arcade Complex (first floor) 617 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14203

TrailerSynopsisDirector StatementDirector BioLinks

Courtesy of Janus Films:

A boxing match in Brooklyn; life in postwar Bosnia and Herzegovina; the daily routine of a Nigerian midwife; an intimate family moment at home: these scenes and others are woven into Cameraperson, a tapestry of footage captured over the twenty-five-year career of documentary cinematographer Kirsten Johnson. Through a series of episodic juxtapositions, Johnson explores the relationships between image makers and their subjects, the tension between the objectivity and intervention of the camera, and the complex interaction of unfiltered reality and crafted narrative. A work that combines documentary, autobiography, and ethical inquiry, Cameraperson is both a moving glimpse into one filmmaker’s personal journey and a thoughtful examination of what it means to train a camera on the world.


  • Sundance Film Festival – 2016
  • SXSW Film Festival – 2016
  • National Board of Review – 2016 – Winner: Freedom of Expression Award
  • CPH:DOX – 2017
  • Independent Spirit Awards – 2017 – Nominee: Best Documentary

courtesy of press kit:

The joys of being a documentary cameraperson are endless and obvious: I get to share profound intimacy with the people I film, pursue remarkable stories, be at the center of events as they unfold, travel, collaborate, and see my work engage with the world. I experience physical freedom and the chance for artistic expression and discovery every time I hold a camera. No wonder I’ve been doing it for twenty-five years and love my life.

And yet, the dilemmas I face while holding my camera are formidable. There are the concrete challenges I must meet in the moment—how to frame, find focus, choose what direction to follow. The other troubles are implicit, and often unseen by audiences:

  • The people I film are in immediate and often desperate need, but I can offer them little to no material assistance.
  • I can and will leave a place I film—whether a war or a refugee camp—while the people I film cannot.
  • I traffic in hope without the ability to know what will happen in the future.
  • I ask for trust, cooperation, and permission without knowing where the filming experience will lead the subject.
  • I shift the balance of power by my very presence, and act on behalf of one side or another in a conflict.
  • My work requires trust, intimacy, and total attention. It often feels like a friendship or family—both to myself and the people I film—but it is something different.
  • I know little about how the images I shoot will be used in the future, and cannot control their distribution or use.
  • My work can change the way my subject is perceived by the people who surround him or her and can impact the subject’s reputation or safety for years into the future.
  • I follow stories the director I work for does not need and/or does not want me to follow.
  • I fail to see or follow stories the director hopes I will follow.

I’ve been aware of these dimensions for most of my career, as is the case for most documentarians, and I have often discussed them with colleagues. What I didn’t know until recently was how much the accumulation of these dilemmas would begin to affect me.

And what I didn’t anticipate when this film began just five years ago was how many people in the world would be using their cell phones as cameras, communicating instantaneously, and seeing images from every part of the globe. Surveillance, political repression, censorship, and the possibility of worldwide distribution of images filmed by any individual on the planet have an effect on all of us and our relation to filming in shifting and unprecedented ways.

In making Cameraperson, my team and I decided to rely as much as possible on the evidence of my experience that is contained within the footage I shot. We know this fragmentary portrait is incomplete and are interested in the way it reveals how stories are constructed. Our hope is to convey the feeling of immediacy that comes with finding oneself in new territory with a camera, as well as to give the audience a sense of how the joys and dilemmas a cameraperson must juggle accumulate over time.

Like the film, this note is an invitation to you, and an acknowledgment of how complex it is to film and be filmed.

Photo: Getty Images

Cinematographer Kirsten Johnson in Manhattan on Aug. 29, 2016. Johnson directed the documentary “Cameraperson” as her visual memoir, consisting of footage from over 20 films she worked on in her 25-year career. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

“I’m only ever trying to build something that will be relevant in the current conversation and clearly there were elements of that conversation that I had not addressed, specifically, do we represent other people if our images of them might put them in danger? That is a border-crossing question because talking about an abortion in one culture can have different consequences in another culture.”

Courtesy of press kit:

Kirsten Johnson (director/producer/cinematographer) has worked as a documentary cinematographer and director, and has committed herself to recording human-rights issues and fostering visual creativity. She has been the principal cinematographer on more than forty feature-length documentaries, and she has been credited on numerous others.

After graduating from Brown University in 1987 with a degree in fine arts and literature, Johnson traveled to Senegal to study with acclaimed filmmakers Djibril Diop Mambéty and Ousmane Sembène. The experience inspired her to apply to La Fémis, France’s national film school, where she studied cinematography.

Following her graduation from La Fémis, Johnson served as cameraperson on a number of highly acclaimed and award-winning documentaries, including Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006), Pray the Devil Back to Hell (2008), and The Invisible War (2012).

Johnson has had a long-standing collaboration with Oscar-winning filmmaker Laura Poitras; she was the cinematographer on The Oath (2010) and Citizenfour (2014) and shot the upcoming film Risk. Additionally, she shot footage that appeared in Poitras’s visual-arts exhibition on surveillance, Laura Poitras: Astro Noise, which opened at the Whitney Museum in the winter of 2016.

When not filming, Johnson teaches a graduate course in visual thinking at NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute and a course on cinematography at the School of Visual Arts, and, working with the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture, she often leads workshops for young camerapeople and documentarians in countries such as Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia.


  • Dick Johnson Is Dead (2020)
  • Cameraperson (2016)
  • Deadline (2004)
  • Innocent Until Proven Guilty (1999)

Here is a curated selection of links shared on our Facebook page for additional insight/information:

  • 9/15/17 – “Cameraperson testifies to a world in which it would be clear to see that we’re all connected, if only we took the time to look at one another with reverence and simply listen.” Ann Hornaday, Washington Postlink
  • 9/21/17 – “No film has more eloquently revealed the provisional, flawed, hopeful, expansive, manipulative, righteous human endeavour called documentary filmmaking. Johnson lays everything on the line to articulate that troubling and continuously replenishing thing about making nonfiction films that all of we filmmakers feel but can’t quite say ourselves.” Robert Greene, Sight & Soundlink
  • 10/2/17 – “The camera is not just a tool, it speaks for us, it writes for us, and it’s also part of us. Cinematographer Kirsten Johnson continues the ongoing interrogation of the power of the camera in her new film, Cameraperson. A labor of love of the highest order.” Michael Koresky, Film Commentlink
  • 10/3/17 – “Johnson’s extraordinary and poetic film accomplishes for documentary cinematography what Christian Frei’s War Photographer (2001) did for photojournalism, illuminating the complex ethical, philosophical, and political stakes behind a craft that remains mostly concealed from the lay consumer of images.” Lauren Du Graf, Los Angeles Review of Bookslink
  • 10/5/17 – Some solid writing from Charlie Lyne to help mull this beautiful film over at Filmmaker magazine: “The Six Fonts of Cameraperson” – link
  • 10/30/17 – Kirsten Johnson reflects on Cameraperson one year after its release via Salonlink

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