WRIF is Back... and 'Cameraperson' is Great!

Starting today, the White River Indie Festival is back for four days in its new home that the Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction.  WRIF is a wonderful small film festival which showcases both new and vintage feature films, as well as a wide range of short films and documentaries, along with parties and discussions throughout White River.  It is definitely worth a trip – and you can sample some of the fare being offered by the many great restaurants in town, old and new.

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One of the features of WRIF this year is ‘Cameraperson’ by renowned documentary filmmaker Kristen Johnson.  I had the opportunity to screen ‘Cameraperson’ in advance, and came away stunned by the beauty of the images and the power of the messages in Johnson’s work.  Presented as a memoir, ‘Cameraperson’ is a series of outtakes and vignettes from Johnson’s lifetime of filmmaking.  Some of the scenes are simply presented as if they were favorite memories, with little context and no commentary; but many are woven through the film into mini-stories from the films that they represent.  This approach to assembling about 100 minutes from what must be thousands of hours of film from Johnson’s archive is a fascinating way to enter the mind of the filmmaker and the person.  You get a clear picture of what Johnson finds important, memorable and significant.

It becomes clear early on in the film that Kristin Johnson seeks out conflict – and conflicts – around the world.  But rather than present them as a journalist might, she digs in the human impact of these conflicts.  From Bosnia to Kabul to Darfur to Texas, Johnson roams the world to discover the human costs and benefits (if that is the appropriate characterization) of the situations in which people find themselves as a result of conflict.  Reflecting darkness in the grim reality of war, displacement, genocide and similar acts; but also stoic humor and resolution in the human priority to survive, Johnson weaves a fascinating tapestry of the memories that she has carried from a life behind the lens.

Furthermore, we discover that Kristin Johnson is a ‘people person’ more than an ‘event person’.  Her choice of film clips reflects a particularly intimate interaction with the world.  Johnson is ‘in the face’ of her subjects, both one-on-one and in crowds throughout the world.  She does not hesitate to linger on a visage, nor does she turn away from a hard stare.  It is in these additional seconds of interaction with her subject(s) that we discover the beauty and the ugliness of the world.  I must admit that there were a few times that I felt shivers from seeing both sides of this coin.

It is only fair to say that ‘Cameraperson’ requires some concentration and patience.  At points along the way it is possible to become distracted by an image or a sequence that seems out of place or random.  But if you are willing to stay the course, you will be rewarded.  It is fulfilling to discover in the latter part of the film that you have been being prepared all along for a powerful summary of Johnson’s life work; and that the threads that seemed to be fraying were, in fact, being intricately woven.

‘Cameraperson’ concludes the White River Indie Festival on Sunday, June 4 at 6.00pm at the Barrette Center for the Arts.  But before that conclusion are many wonderful films to consider.  For the entire schedule and for ticket information, go to: http://www.wrif.org or call 802-281-3785.

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