In 2017, filmmaker Theo Anthony released “Rat Film,” an unlikely poetic, intellectually dazzling and politically astute documentary on the seemingly prosaic subject of rats and their place in the modern cityscape. Anthony’s new film “All Light, Everywhere,” reflects on a range of more abstract and less earthly subjects – the physiology of human vision, the history of photography, the ethics of surveillance – in a spirit similar open-minded and morally urgent research. . While the connections Anthony makes are sometimes vague and not always convincing, this can be a risk inherent in his essayist and non-dogmatic approach to reality.
And the attempt to capture reality in moving images happens to be the subject of “All Light, Everywhere”. It starts with a quote from William blake: “Like the eye – like the object.” In other words, vision determines the shape of what is seen. Rather than a simple image of reality, the camera selects, frames and interprets, often in the service of power and ideology.
This is particularly worrying when the camera is doing the job of law enforcement. Anthony’s primary concern is the use of video and other forms of image-gathering in policing, a practice whose claims of objectivity come under constant and skeptical pressure.
Part of the pressure comes from the voiceover narration, written by Anthony and read by Keaver Brenai, which bristles with rhetorical questions (“What future does history dream of?”) And theoretical formulations. The musical score, by Dan Deacon, adds an air of menace and suspense that sometimes overwhelms the images.
Fortunately, philosophical flights and historical essays are affixed to a solid and revealing documentary structure. Anthony and his team visit the Arizona headquarters Axon, which manufactures both Tasers and body cameras. An upbeat company spokesperson explains the connection between these products, and his speech is rooted in the sincere belief that free enterprise and technological innovation can solve problems of public safety and government accountability.
Is he selling progress or dystopia? A similar question haunts the mysterious focus group that meets on screen every now and then, as well as the Baltimore Police Department’s training session on Axon body cameras. There, officers look bored and suspicious as a sergeant explains policies and procedures that he says will benefit the police at least as much as they protect citizens’ rights.
By observing these interactions – and a Baltimore community meeting on the use of cameras mounted on planes to track movement on city streets – Anthony unveils the troubling political implications of techniques often presented as neutral or benevolent.
We like to think that the images don’t lie and that the data is unbiased. But Anthony suggests not only that there is always a point of view at work, but also that images and information are easily militarized by those in power, used for classification and control of those without. do not have any.
In a patient – and sometimes even playful – rather than polemical way, “All Light, Everywhere” contributes to debates on crime, the police, racism and accountability. In his final moments, he goes beyond those arguments, to a very different set of ideas about what cameras can do. A brief epilogue documents Anthony’s involvement in a Baltimore high school filmmaking program, an experience the director admits he didn’t know how to fit into this film.
Its inclusion nonetheless adds the glimmer of a counterargument to a disturbing account of some of the ways Big Brother looks at us – a reminder the rest of us have eyes, too. And cameras.
All light, everywhere
Unclassified. Duration: 1h45. In theaters.