Review: ‘All Light, Everywhere’ remarkably interrogates body cameras as well as the ethics of the surveillance age


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More than once during “All Light, Everywhere, ” you may find yourself questioning exactly what you’re looking at. This really is entirely appropriate, since one of the key points of this expansively brainy cinematic essay concerns the particular limitations of human vision, perception and understanding. You will puzzle over some of the images, many of them arrestingly shot (by Corey Hughes), gradually tease out their meanings and maybe even synthesize them into a narrative. Curious metal devices pass through an automated assembly line. Throngs of people wear protective glasses and look skyward on a hot day time. A veiny, pulsing blob of light reveals itself as a closeup of an optic nerve — a disorienting, brain-tickling image that invites your eye to consider someone else’s.

The eye on the screen belongs to the filmmaker, Theo Anthony , and his decision to turn the camera upon himself at the outset immediately establishes an ethos of self-critique. He packs a lot straight into this documentary’s heady not-quite-two hours: a peek in the nonlethal weapons and bulk surveillance industries; a critical portrait of American policing, especially in Anthony’s home city of Baltimore; a series of interlocking lessons in astronomy, criminal id and avian flight patterns. But given Anthony’s central aim — to expose the particular fallibility of the moving image and its endless potential for adjustment — he sensibly begins with himself, a producer and manipulator of relocating images, someone in whose hands the camera can be not just an instrument but the weapon.

The connection between cameras and weaponry is not made facetiously within a movie as rife with associative tangents as “Rat Film” (2016), the director’s equally nimble debut feature. One disquieting sub-thread surveys online early inventions like Jules Janssen’s photographic revolver plus Étienne-Jules Marey’s chronophotographic gun, the latter modeled on the Gatling gun and capable of “shooting” 12 images per second. These primitive, pioneering products were meant to revolutionize study, to help observe, deconstruct plus quantify matters — ranges between celestial bodies, designs of bodily movement — that the human eye alone cannot. But the data they created were often wildly not yet proven, prone to varied interpretations and acquired from shifting, irreproducible perspectives.


Back in the current day, where most of this documented resides, the image-capture industries continue apace. And while the technologies they’ve produced are usually vastly more sophisticated compared to their 19th century forebears, Anthony argues, they are believe it or not likely to sow confusion and imprecision. Invoking Frederick Douglass ’ 1862 quote that “beneath the seen lies the particular immeasurable unseen, ” he or she rephrases that insight inside the specific context of the photographed image: “Every image has a frame, ” he records, “and every frame excludes a world beyond its sides. ” His intent here is to explore how, whether in the name of public service or private enterprise, that exclusion is usually exploited and weaponized.

A person sits alone in a field of yellow seats.

An image from the documentary “All Light, Everywhere. ”


And so Anthony takes us within a Baltimore Police Department get together where officers are been trained in the use of body cameras, lingering not on the body-cam video footage (which is pointedly excluded) but on the officers’ often-revealing reactions to the directives they’re given. He also shows us where the cameras are made, taking us on an prolonged tour of Axon, the maker of Tasers and other items regularly used in law enforcement. Our own guide to the company’s Chandler, Ariz. -based facilities is one of Axon’s key principals, though as he drops one particular casually contradictory statement right after another — extolling the company’s commitment to total openness one minute and pointing out there its top-secret R& N department the next — you begin to wonder if he’s top the filmmaker around or vice versa.

One of the movie’s unspoken insights seems to be that the more a person or corporation harps on about objectivity and liability, the less they can be reliable to evince any. That will observation speaks directly to the debate around body cameras, which often have been held up since neutral observers, their video footage entered into court evidence as an unassailable record of the reality. But Anthony handily demolishes that assumption, pointing out there how a camera, equipped with the distorting wide-angle lens plus mounted on an officer’s upper body, creates its own skewed viewpoint and often promotes or rationalizes a police narrative. The officer’s point of view, which easily elides any trace of the officer’s own actions, will be accorded an authority it doesn’t deserve.

The Baltimore Police Department introduced its body-cam plan in 2016, a year following the death of Freddie Gray , a 25-year-old Black man, through injuries sustained in police custody. Around the same period, the police secretly launched a good aerial surveillance program, joining up with the chillingly named Consistent Surveillance Systems to produce live-updated Google Earth-style renderings from the city during a time of increasing homicide rates. The troubling implications of this technology, marketed as a means of minimizing crime and serving the community, are usually unpacked at length within a series of increasingly fraught discussions among Baltimore residents, a lot of them Black. They argue in spirited length about a technologies that promises criminal deterrence on the one hand and (even more of) a police security state on the other.

In these tense encounters, Anthony’s camera holds fast on his speakers’ faces, one of which is strategically blurred in a manner that urgently drives home his concerns about privacy and consent. The filmmaker doesn’t call attention to his own presence, though he does thus frequently elsewhere, whether he is cleverly debunking the effects used in one scene, briefly stepping into the frame to put together a shot or, in a surprising epilogue, pulling back to show the vestiges of a significant narrative thread that was eventually discarded. If perception has its limitations, this seriously sobering, stimulating film indicates, that may be another way of saying it is fundamentally limitless. There is certainly so much — too much — to see here, and no finish of vantages from which to find out it.

‘All Light, Everywhere’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 52 mins

Actively playing: Opens 06 4 at the Landmark, Western Los Angeles