'Point and Shoot' details filmmaker's 'crash course in manhood'
By Colin Covert
Meeting Matthew VanDyke in the documentary “Point and Shoot,” we learn that the would-be filmmaker from Baltimore motorcycled across Africa and south central Asia with unusual personal peculiarities.
At 29, the timid “only child of an only child of an only child” decided that he didn’t understand his impending manhood. He set out to film and star in thrilling overseas odysseys, casting himself as a “swaggering, egotistical” explorer with the assumed name Max Hunter.
VanDyke launched the overseas project despite thoughts and fears ruled by obsessive-compulsive disorder. He dreaded damaged shoes, germs, dirty hands and sugar. He was consumed by anxiety that he might injure someone, so worried he would double back for miles to be sure he had hit a bump in the road, not a native.
Somehow VanDyke, whose greatest field of valor was video game marathons, felt a surge of courage covering more ground than most could in a lifetime. His voyage, which he expected to be “a crash course in manhood,” turned him into a life-risking revolutionary Arab warrior. He had traveled to Libya and made friends there in 2008. When its civil war started in 2011, his contacts said their relatives were disappearing. He joined Libyan fighters against Moammar Gadhafi’s regime, both of his hands full. One held cameras, the other guns.
“Point and Shoot” isn’t, to be honest, a great film. Most early travel scenes are brief excerpts from VanDyke’s lightweight Max Hunter adventures. Director Marshall Curry adds what he can to tell the bigger story. There are so-so interviews with VanDyke’s critical girlfriend, Lauren Fischer, and animated passages worthy of cartoon drama to cover a months-long Libyan imprisonment VanDyke was unable to film.
Nonetheless, “Point and Shoot” is a thought-provoking look at a meek life that veered in unpredictable directions. VanDyke’s vivid footage of combat in the fall of Tripoli brings him to a moment when he receives his first and only mission to shoot a Gadhafi lieutenant. It’s an episode that feels more frightening than heroic. Now 35, the wiser VanDyke reflects on his physical and psychological hardships, amazed by the memories.
Admirably, VanDyke has no misinterpretation of his modest merits. He explains why he felt moved to risk his life to aid civilians who had been under dictatorial rule for 40 years. He also shares his uncertainties about delivering that aid at gunpoint. He began his travel overseas to find daring and masculinity. Today he’s disturbed by what he has done and uncertain of whether it brought him honor. His original “crash course in manhood” produced painful impacts he never imagined.