Film, Film Review

REVIEW: All Light, Everywhere (2021) dir. Theo Anthony

Now playing in Kendall Square Cinema

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It’s not often that filmmakers approach their pieces as academic theses, but Theo Anthony’s methodological approach to All Light, Everywhere shows that this sort of structure should be used more often for both fiction and nonfiction formats. All Light, Everywhere explores the efficacy of body cams used in police departments by looking to the historical context of the camera invention, ethical questions concerning surveillance, and the psychological infliction to a supposedly unbiased viewpoint. Anthony’s ambition to cover all this within two hours might seem strenuous, but the connections are sufficiently seamless that it can be easy on the eyes.

The documentary is divided into three parts, separated by quotes from the likes of William Blake and Frederick Douglass. Even with these points of pause, the film’s narrative spine still remains nonlinear. Anthony sometimes brings himself into view; in the opening scene, the camera is zoomed into his optic nerve, where closed captioning states that though it’s the connection to the brain, it is actually the vision’s blind spot. These nuggets of information are dispersed throughout the film — either in these silent captions, narration provided by actress Keaver Brenai, or in a series of related scenes — and after we may have wondered why the heck we need to watch body cam footage from a pigeon’s chest. If it’s not the pigeon, it’s watching regular people under the beating sun trying different techniques in capturing a solar eclipse. If it’s not regular people, it’s watching the well-oiled spokesperson machine Steve Tuttle of Axon, the company behind Tasers and the majority of police-utilized body cams, run through the manufacture and purpose of their products in a removed-from-reality vibe. And I haven’t begun to talk about the other storylines — of experiments, eugenics, police training — that are mentioned here.

Even stripping the scholarly touch, Anthony’s usage of imagery creates a distinct presence in the film’s body. The weaponization of the body cam– Tuttle explains that it should be used to prove a police officer’s point, and not to show anything that the police officer is unable to say that they saw (listen to the tension when he explains this)– is best visualized not by watching Axon or police department training videos, but in the photographic depictions of an 1882 chronophotographic gun; the camera’s evolution is closely related to the invention of heavy artillery. Like the rest of the film’s open-endedness, there is no clear “The camera is a gun” statement uttered anywhere, but Anthony doesn’t need to waste a breath.

One of the movie’s clearest points has to do with a community meeting between Baltimore residents and Ross McNutt, the CEO of an aerial surveillance company that had previously worked with the Baltimore Police Department during the 2020 protests. When the mayor discovered this clandestine relationship, Persistent Surveillance Systems was shut down and the plane was taken to ground. McNutt’s resurrects the program, redirecting its attention to the Baltimore community (under the dubious guise of deterring criminal activity). Tensions rise between members who felt that their rights were being threatened by surveillance (and by the rolling cameras that are capturing this meeting) and those who see its possible advantages. At some point, McNutt lightly mentions that Anthony’s presence may have fueled the edginess that hadn’t been in previous meetings. Without meaning to, this scene became a culmination of All Light, Everywhere‘s thesis. Which, to some degree, is unnerving.

The meta-ness of watching this movie may lead the audience’s eye wander if the message is not clear, but it draws one’s attention back to the screen if there’s a pivotal point being made. At times, it might feel overbearing to watch scenes that were filmed as if they were reflections of a trick mirror (just wait until the last scene where you almost want to yank your neighbor’s arm to pull them down from the projector’s view). Reviewing All Light, Everywhere feels like I’m part of the experiment, and there’s no good way to explain every nuance until you commit your eyeballs to the screen for those 109 minutes. However, the experience is daring, bold, and interactive. Even when the imperfections aren’t X-rayed for our convenience, light can shine on the darkest truths just at the right angle.

All Light, Everywhere
2021
dir. Theo Anthony
109 mins

Now playing at Kendall Square Cinema!

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