Point and Shoot (The Orchard, NR)

film point-and-shoot_smI kept telling myself things like “surely this is a satire” and “no one could possibly be this self-centered,” but I was wrong on both counts.




film point-and-shoot

If you can stand sitting through the world’s longest selfie, there are some features of interest in Marshall Curry’s documentary Point and Shoot. That’s a big if, however, because the film primarily documents five years in the life of Matthew VanDyke, a pleasant young Baltimorean whose behavior suggest he believes that the world in general, and the Libyan Civil War in particular, exist primarily for his own benefit.

Throughout Point and Shoot, I kept telling myself things like “surely this is a satire” and “no one could possibly be this self-centered,” but I was wrong on both counts. To his credit, Curry picks a lane and sticks with it. The result is a film about a privileged American (white, male, well-off, well-educated) and how he (sort of) grew up in the process of traveling through the Arab World and becoming involved in an armed conflict. Should you care? Speaking personally, I don’t care at all about Matthew VanDyke, but I did find Point and Shoot sufficiently interesting to be glad I watched it.

Point and Shoot incorporates three segments, the first covering VanDyke’s young childhood and young adulthood as the only child of an only child who admits he grew up as “the center of my family’s universe.” He had lots of virtual adventures, based on action movies, video games, and an Australian reality show, but was sheltered from real life. Lucky for him, he grew up to be handsome and charming, but in his mid-20s was still living at home and doing nothing for himself—not even his laundry.

The recipient of a Master’s degree from Georgetown with a concentration in Middle Eastern Studies (which did not require learning Arabic!), VanDyke decides it’s time to do something with his life. Intending to create a travel documentary, he draws on a never-revealed source of income to buy a motorcycle, camera, and plane ticket, and heads off to visit every Arab country in the world, filming himself all the while. This part of the film is the most insufferable, and the travel footage itself is also generally terrible, no better than what any amateur might shoot on their summer vacation.

Along the way, VanDyke got thrown into a Libyan prison, and this constitutes the second phase of his life. Joe Posner’s powerful animations make this section feel far more real than any of the previous events in the film, maybe because VanDyke is not sticking his mug into every other shot (his similarity in appearance to Grizzly Man’s Timothy Treadwell does not improve his credibility). In fact, the less VanDyke appears in his “clueless American abroad” persona, the more interesting the film.

The most interesting part of the film documents VanDyke’s time spent with some Libyan freedom fighters who helped overthrow Muammar Gaddafi. The interest here stems primarily from the glimpses it offers of a guerilla war, and even VanDyke’s perpetual dithering (“Am I a soldier or a filmmaker?”) and self-centeredness can’t totally kill it. Curry, who is credited as director, producer, and editor, does a masterful job combining VanDyke’s footage (some of it clearly shot by others) with clips from CNN and other sources to give you a real sense of being in the midst of the action. On the other hand, Curry is content to accept VanDyke’s presentation of himself, never asking hard questions or demanding real answers, so the film seldom gets beneath the surface of its subject.

The interest in Point and Shoot comes from two different aspects of the film. One is that it documents life and events in North Africa that you and I will probably never see otherwise. The other is that it provides an amazing demonstration of how media-saturated the world is, to the point where American servicemen and Libyan freedom fighters alike want to play soldier for the camera so they will have impressive clips of themselves to share on the internet. Apparently it’s not enough to be a soldier anymore; you have to look like the movie version of one, as well. | Sarah Boslaugh

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