Tribeca Film Festival: Best Documentary – ‘Point and Shoot’
By Carole Di Tosti
4 (out of 5) Stars
What Marshall Curry has done in his award-winning documentary Point and Shoot, is to create an amazing chronicle that reveals the soul and spirit of another documentarian who journeys physically, mentally and spiritually across America and then travels to more exotic and dangerous areas of the world. Curry who had complete creative control selected, edited and then cobbled together Matthew VanDyke’s film footage of his exploits, encounters, philosophical observations and developing perceptions as he motorcycles on a journey toward self-discovery which encompassed a three-year, 35,000 motorcycle trip through Northern Africa and the Middle East.
Curry frames and overlays VanDyke’s picaresque adventures beginning with interviews of the young man from Baltimore after he returns from his life shattering jaunts. During the fascinating interview process Curry discovered that Van Dyke was irrevocably transformed by his nomadic wanderings. Curry’s twenty-hour interview is whittled down to include the most salient and revelatory of VanDyke’s commentary, his intimate reflections about himself and his self-described “crash course in manhood.” Curry uses the interview questions and VanDyke’s responses to cohere with the footage VanDyke shot of his experiences. The result is a brilliant journal of how VanDyke molted the skins of his 27-year-old youth and grew into the more open, flexible and risk-taking persona who is swept up in the tide of times in Libya where he meets and befriends individuals/rebels and accepts their fight as his own as they go to war against Muammar Gaddafi to free the country of the despot.
Curry reveals how the very nature of photographing himself changes VanDyke’s perceptions and identity of who he is during the course of his world explorations. VanDyke gives himself the hot, sexy name Max Hunter to symbolize his new way of being and we watch as he becomes Max, reshaping himself as an adventurer, gradually emerging from the former nervous, inward, OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) racked, recent graduate of Georgetown, who is sheltered by family at home and who cannot get himself arrested.
As Curry unfolds VanDyke’s three-year chronology, he reveals how VanDyke’s motorcycle journey grows increasingly adventurous, bold, earthy and risk-taking, befitting the glamorously named Max Hunter. Packing his machine gun and his camera “Max” fought and filmed the Libyan revolt, was captured by Gaddafi forces, held in solitary confinement for six months and eventually escaped to continue the war effort filming how his Libyan buddies and various soldiers are caught up in recording their “bravery” using their mobile phones to tweet and Facebook their “selfies” and “soldiering.” In a number of instances Libyan soldiers who were just on watch asked Max to film them being macho, Hollywood style heroes. This social commentary is used by Curry to reflect on how perception of our identity is refracted through the prisms of our own making and is especially influenced by films, TV and news programs. This affirming identity through such prisms is a global phenomenon. Curry suggests that the camera via Social is impacting human behaviors beyond measure, even beyond our own understanding. In many instances it has become a positive motivation and influence to effect deeds for the greater good of humanity.
Through as objective a filter as possible, Curry’s documentary poses many questions and raises important trending issues that he attempts to investigate but never insults the audience by answering. He leaves it up to us to reflect and consider: What makes us do the things we do? How should we spend our lives? Where should we place ourselves on the spectrum between a fearful life trapped in a cubicle and ill-considered recklessness? What are our moral responsibilities when people are suffering far away? What do we need to think through before jumping into distant conflicts? Above all what does it mean that many of us have become brand managers of our public personas? How does this affect the reality of who we really are? Does it confuse circumstances as we become a nation of self-aggrandizing, self watchers? Or can tremendous good come from knowing “the whole world is watching” us on Youtube (as we wish or may not wish depending upon our promotional intentions)?
Physicists have dealt with the complicated questions of quantum mechanics, which, simply stated, also includes to what extent the measurement or observation of a quantum object changes/impacts the object. Indeed, the interactions are beyond our ability to fathom, and Curry suggests that those in the Middle East, knowing that their actions were recorded, were greatly impacted. This even may have inspired their actions and bravery in the Arab Spring. Such is the power of Social media and film making.
Finally, Curry engages us in his quest to better understand these aspects of human nature, our global culture and the need to empower ourselves by becoming the heroes of our own mythology. Some filmmakers have suggested that the act of filming strips away its power over us and gives us great control over ourselves and our own behaviors. Whether this is ultimately beneficial is up to us to decide. Curry leaves the answers to us.