An image is “captured.” A flash “fires.” A camera “shoots.”
Weaponry is baked into the language of filmmaking, as Theo Anthony’s illuminating documentary “All Light, Everywhere,” details. An exploratory essay about surveillance, policing and the nature of video technology, the film probably deserves the oft-used phrase “eye-opening” more than most movies for the way it probes and meditates on perspective, bias and the lenses through which so much of life is increasingly framed.
“All Light, Everywhere,” which opens in theaters Friday, is ostensibly about a hot-button issue: body cameras worn by police officers. The spine of Anthony’s investigation is a lengthy visit at the headquarters of Axon Enterprise, manufacturer of the Taser and the dominant supplier of body cams to police departments. That the same company could be making both piqued Anthony’s curiosity. Interspersing a guided tour of Axon with historical and contemporary digressions, “All Light, Everywhere” examines how cameras have, from their 19th century beginnings, always been a tool of data mining, an instrument of measurement, a framer of a separate, pixelated world.
It’s an exploration that touches not just on policing and justice, but astronomy, politics, phrenology and race. Anthony’s previous feature “Rat Film” delved into the history and politics of Baltimore’s rodent infestation. His “30 for 30” short “Subject to Review” analyzed video review in tennis. He specializes in the gulf between images and reality. He resides in blind spots.
Body cams make a particularly compelling case because they aren’t designed at Axon to capture an objective perspective, but an officer’s viewpoint. Their cameras aren’t infrared since people can’t see in the dark, for example. The thinking goes that officers shouldn’t be accountable for anything beyond what they can see. Several recent fatal police shootings of Black men have highlighted how body cams can often fall short of full transparency.
In the film, this is a jumping off point to survey how cameras and photography have always played a role in classifying criminality and in conveying political power. One lengthy, probing scene captures a community meeting of Black Baltimoreans skeptically debating the use of “God’s eye view” surveillance from the sky to help police their neighborhoods.
“All Light, Everywhere” was, of course, made with similar technology but toward much different ends. Anthony treats his documentary like a collage, using a variety of narrators and occasional footage of himself — along with a late explanation about why one part of the film (months spent with Baltimore teens learning moviemaking) was largely left out — to suggest that any truth can ultimately only come from multiple perspectives.
“All Light Everywhere,” a Super LTD release, isn’t rated by the Motion Picture Association of America. Running time: 109 minutes. Three stars out of four.
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP