In a season glutted with issue-oriented documentaries about topics as diverse as criminal justice and the creation of the universe, Kirsten Johnson’s “Cameraperson” feels like both a soothing balm and a wake-up call. Johnson is best known as a cinematographer with some of the best eyes in the business. Her patient, unerringly well-judged sense of framing has informed such groundbreaking documentaries as “The Invisible War,” about sexual assault in the military; “Trapped,” about restrictive abortion laws; “Happy Valley,” about the rites and rituals of Penn State’s aggressive athletic culture; and “Citizenfour,” featuring Edward Snowden in the days leading up to his massive leak of national security documents.

In “Cameraperson,” Johnson has taken footage from those and several other films she’s photographed to create an essay about how the events she’s captured behind the camera — events that have often involved the aftermath of heart-wrenching trauma — have affected her and, to use her own language at the beginning of the film, left their marks.

In a series of quiet, contemplative outtakes, Johnson shows us the world as she has experienced it over the past 25 years, visiting Kosovo, Afghanistan, a secret prison in Yemen, a maternity ward in Nigeria, a quantum physicist at the University of Texas and her own mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, at her childhood home in Wyoming. Edited with superb attention to timing and detail by Nels Bangerter, “Cameraperson” draws the audience into Johnson’s own rhythms and openhearted relationships with her subjects, as she draws them out, eats and laughs and cries with them, gently pushes them to disclose a little bit more, and, frequently, allows herself to be obviously and profoundly moved.

As a candid glimpse of how documentaries are made, “Cameraperson” is a fascinating tutorial for artists and audiences. (At one point, the director Laura Poitras can be heard asking Johnson whether she should repeat a particularly cinematic action, revealing just one of several tricks of a trade that often presents itself as unstudied and spontaneous.) Although free of narration or explicit suggestion, Johnson has created a primer in filmmaking ethics, from interacting with sources to whether and how to crop images and stage scenes.

Even more valuable, though, is how Johnson so poetically expresses the emotional costs of documentary work — her high degree of identification with suffering, and her ambivalence surrounding bearing witness to her subjects’ most intimate, painful moments — and how, at its finest, film creates space for empathy and compassion. (In its alert, discursive cosmopolitanism, Johnson’s work most closely resembles the restless essay films of Jem Cohen.)

At one point, a scientist Johnson is filming describes how pieces of matter can affect each other across time and space. In a mesmerizing series of images, encounters and delicate juxtapositions, “Cameraperson” testifies to a world in which it would be clear to see that we’re all connected, if only we took the time to look at one another with reverence and simply listen.

— Ann Hornaday, Washington Post


Sat February 4, 2017, 7:30 PM, Muenzinger Auditorium

USA, 2016, in English, Color, 102 min



10 films for $60 with punch card
$9 general admission. $7 w/UCB student ID, $7 for senior citizens
$1 discount to anyone with a bike helmet
Free on your birthday! CU Cinema Studies students get in free.


Pay lot 360 (now only $1/hour!), across from the buffalo statue and next to the Duane Physics tower, is closest to Muenzinger. Free parking can be found after 5pm at the meters along Colorado Ave east of Folsom stadium and along University Ave west of Macky.


Park elsewhere and catch the HOP to campus

International Film Series

(Originally called The University Film Commission)
Established 1941 by James Sandoe.

First Person Cinema

(Originally called The Experimental Cinema Group)
Established 1955 by Carla Selby, Gladney Oakley, Bruce Conner and Stan Brakhage.

C.U. Film Program

(AKA The Rocky Mountain Film Center)
First offered degrees in filmmaking and critical studies in 1989 under the guidance of Virgil Grillo.

Celebrating Stan

Created by Suranjan Ganguly in 2003.

C.U. Department of Cinema Studies & Moving Image Arts

Established 2017 by Chair Ernesto Acevedo-Muñoz.

Thank you, sponsors!
Boulder International Film Festival
Department of Cinema Studies & Moving Image Arts

Looking for a gift for a friend?
Buy a Frequent Patron Punch Card for $60 at any IFS show. With the punch card you can see ten films (a value of $90).

Cover art for Spring 2 2022
Virtual titles to stream from home

Cox & Kjølseth
: Filmmaker Alex Cox & Pablo Kjølseth discuss film topics from their own unique perspectives.

: Pablo and Ana share Zoom-based briefs on what's currently playing at IFS

Sprocket Damage
: Sprocket Damage digs deep(ish) into current and classic films and film-related subjects to bring to you insightful, humorous, and enlightening perspectives on the industry.

Search IFS schedules

Index of visiting artists

Sun Oct 2, 2022

Fantastic Planet

At Muenzinger Auditorium

Fri Oct 21, 2022

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

At Muenzinger Auditorium

more on 35mm...