Hot Docs Reviews: 'Point and Shoot', 'Everyday Rebellion'

Point and Shoot
(USA, 82 min.)
Dir. Marshall Curry
Programme: Special Presentations (International Premiere)
At what point does a documentarian become the subject of his own film? This question provides a thrilling undercurrent to the compelling Point and Shoot. Director Marshall Curry (If a Tree Falls) turns his camera upon fellow filmmaker Matthew VanDyke and delivers a fascinating account of what happens when a documentary filmmaker becomes an agent of the very cause he documents. This innovative film, which won recently won Best Documentary Feature at Tribeca, is a must-see for doc fans.

Point and Shoot introduces VanDyke’s project and explains how dissatisfaction with his life prompted a world tour. VanDyke tells how he set off on a motorbike and strapped a camera to his helmet. He says he would film the world for all to see and return home a changed man. Change he does, though, for VanDyke crosses the line from observer to agent when he arrives in Libya and befriends members of the rebel army hoping to remove Muammar Gadhafi from power.

VanDyke’s dilemma is truly fascinating because he holds the camera every step of the way through his involvement with the rebels. (Except, of course, for the unnerving portion in which he goes to jail for insurgency, but that section is reimagined with haunting animation.) Point and Shoot asks the audience at how long can one remain a detached observer to significant events. One can either document history or one can make history, and Matthew becomes astutely aware of his conflicting roles both behind and before the camera.

Point and Shoot furthers VanDyke’s evolution by paralleling his grasp of the camera with his use of a gun. The film beings with scenes of Matthew setting up shots and mastering the art of composition during his travelogue as he makes a movie through trial and error. Point and Shoot then puts a gun in his hands and sees him learn how to handle a gun. It is pretty much the same as camera, as the title playfully says with its simple instruction of “point and shoot.” Curry’s hard questions show the danger in blurring filmmaking with rebellion, though, and the film doesn’t shy away from interrogating VanDyke’s journey from artist to activist. Point and Shoot fashions documentary form as a powerful weapon.

Rating: ★★★★ (out of ★★★★★)

Everyday Rebellion
(Austria/Switzerland/Germany, 112 min.)
Dir. Arash T. Riahi and Arman T. Riahi
Programme: Special Presentations (Canadian Premiere)
“Occupy” is the political buzzword of the day. It inspires mass protests, demonstrations, and civil disobedience. Occupy is a rallying cry for activists, but does it actually work?

The Occupy Wall Street movement might have failed aside from garnering attention, but the lessons of Everyday Rebellion suggest that the fight is not yet over. The film offers theories and evidence for the success of non-violent protest to suggest that pacifist rebellion is the greatest agent of change in the long term.

Filmmakers/brothers Arash and Arman Riahi weave a universal portrait of peaceful protestors rising up against the establishment and demanding change. Everyday Rebellion offers stories from around the world as protestors in Egypt, Spain, Iran, Ukraine, Russian, America, and elsewhere all take a step forward by fighting for their rights in creative non-violent ways. It’s a stirring portrait of global political currents stemming from the sensation of movements like Occupy, although the film drags out the chorus of examples into an overlong series of case studies. A flood of politically branded ping-pong balls, for example, provides an unexpected call to action, while protestors in groups such as Femen provoke the establishment and gain attention for worthy causes by turning heads.

Everyday Rebellion might also be one year too late in the making, for it really doesn’t offer anything new to the wave of zeitgeist-y political docs about the fight of the 99%. (2012’s Hot Docs hit We Are Wisconsin, for example, punches harder thanks to the immediacy of its tale.) This how-to-guide offers plenty of intellectual jargon and ample inspirational examples, but it isn’t fresh enough or provocative enough to bring anyone new to the fight. Everyday Rebellion essentially preaches to the choir, although it does so very well.

Rating: ★★★ (out of ★★★★★)

Please visit www.hotdocs.ca for more information on this year’s festival.