Downloads: Press Release
Documentary by Two-Time Oscar® Nominee Marshall Curry Illustrates the Camera’s Central Role in Documenting — and Shaping — Modern Identity and World Events
A Co-production of Marshall Curry Productions, American Documentary | POV and ITVS
“A gripping nonfiction thriller. Riveting . . . suspenseful . . . an extraordinary and quietly disturbing film.” — David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter
Matt VanDyke was a recent grad with a love of video games and action movies when he decided to embark on a “crash course in manhood.” With a motorcycle and a video camera, he set off on a life-changing 35,000-mile odyssey across North Africa and the Middle East that led to his participation in the 2011 Libyan revolution against Muammar Gaddafi and six-month imprisonment in Libya.
As VanDyke worked to reshape himself, he also helped create a stunning portrait of how the ever-present cameras in our “selfie society” not only record our lives, but also craft who we become.
Two-time Oscar® nominee Marshall Curry, celebrating his 10th anniversary with POV, tells VanDyke’s amazing story in Point and Shoot, premiering Monday, Aug. 24, 2015 at 10 p.m. on PBS (check local listings). Winner of the Best Documentary Feature Award at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, Point and Shoot is Curry’s fourth film with POV; two of his previous POV films — Street Fight and If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front — were nominated for Academy Awards.
Drawing from more than 100 hours of VanDyke’s action-packed travel videos, Curry (with full creative independence in the making of the film) has created a riveting film that asks thorny questions about manhood, personal risk and the nature of war in the era of Facebook.
“My mother says that as a child I always had a deep desire for adventure,” VanDyke says early in the film. Yet his early experiences were almost entirely virtual. “Movies shaped a lot of who I was,” he explains, adding that he would sometimes spend 12 hours a day playing video games. “I was the only child of an only child of an only child. I lived at home in the basement throughout college. I didn’t have many friends.” He developed severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, which made him intensely anxious around trashcans and sugar and left him unable to drive a car for fear of causing an accident.
By the time he was in his twenties, he had earned a master’s degree from Georgetown University. “I wanted to do something extraordinary,” VanDyke, now in his early thirties, tells Curry in one of many on-camera interviews. And so, inspired by Australian reality TV star Alby Mangels, he began filming footage of himself starring in his own nonfiction action movie. Soon he was in Africa filming camels and cobras, and setting up shots of his own adventures. “I wasn’t just watching television anymore,” he says enthusiastically.
The early footage is sometimes shaky but captures VanDyke’s transition from a reclusive couch potato to a swaggering character who carries a sawed off shotgun and wears body armor as he travels across Northern Africa, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. He takes on a new identity, calling himself “Max Hunter” in his videos. He explains, “At the beginning I was struggling to project that [image] on camera. But you know, over time I think I sort of grew into the me on camera.”
When the Arab Spring breaks out in Libya in 2011, VanDyke travels to Benghazi to join friends he made during his motorcycle journey — including a Libyan hippy named Nuri — in their fight against Gaddafi. With a gun in one hand and a camera in the other, he helps gather weapons, but on a reconnaissance mission he is captured and thrown into solitary confinement for nearly six months, an experience depicted in a surreal animated segment. After being freed by rebels, VanDyke declines to go home, instead returning to the front lines. “For the first time in my life, I felt like I was doing something really important,” he says.
Throughout his adventures, we see the strange role that cameras play in modern wars. In Iraq, American soldiers ask him to film them pretending to kick down a door, wanting to be seen on film acting like Hollywood versions of soldiers. Likewise, in Libya, rebel soldiers use cell phones to record themselves in the midst of combat, hoping to get shots that make them look like fighters in action movies. Notes VanDyke, “They wanted their picture taken with the big gun. Things that they can show their friends, the family. To women they like to impress.”
“Everybody wants something they can share on Facebook,” VanDyke continues. “Everybody tries to create their idealized image of how they want to be seen and who they want to be.”
VanDyke admits to using his camera this way as well. Later, when he is filmed by an American news crew, he confesses that seeing himself on TV had the surprisingly powerful effect of validating his experiences. In another segment he has himself filmed attempting to kill an enemy combatant, a scene chillingly juxtaposed with footage that Libyan rebels shot of themselves as they killed Gaddafi in the final moments of the war.
“As a filmmaker,” Curry says, “one of the things that struck me about Matt’s story was the role that cameras played, not simply in documenting his life, but in shaping it. Salman Rushdie has said that telling stories about our lives gives us control over them — how people see us and how we see ourselves. Today, more and more, we tell our stories with cellphone cameras, Facebook and Twitter, and those images that we create affect who we actually become.
“Who was Matt? Lawrence of Arabia? Don Quixote? Christopher McCandless from Into the Wild? Ernest Hemingway in the Spanish Civil War? How does documenting ourselves change how we act? And what does that mean in a setting of war?”
In the end, the film does not offer tidy answers to these questions, instead inviting the audience to wrestle with them on their own.
Point and Shoot is a co-production of Marshall Curry Productions, American Documentary | POV and ITVS, with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in association with Matthew VanDyke and BBC/Storyville.
About the Filmmaker:
Marshall Curry, Director/Producer/Editor
Marshall Curry is a two-time Academy Award® nominated documentary director. He got his start directing, shooting and editing Street Fight, which follows Cory Booker’s first run for mayor of Newark, N.J. It aired on POV (2004), the BBC and HBO Latin America and was nominated for an Academy Award and an Emmy®. After Street Fight, Curry was the director and producer, as well as one of the cinematographers and editors, of Racing Dreams (2009), which follows three youngsters who dream of racing in NASCAR. The film won numerous awards, including Best Documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival. It had its national television premiere on POV and is being developed into a fiction film by DreamWorks. Curry’s third documentary (director, editor, writer), If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, follows an environmentalist who faced life in prison for burning two timber facilities. It won the Sundance Film Festival award for Best Documentary: Editing, was nominated for an Academy Award and premiered on POV.
Most recently, Curry was executive producer (and additional editor) of Mistaken for Strangers, a heartbreaking comedy rock-doc about sibling rivalry in the band The National. It was the opening night film at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2013 and received rave reviews.
Director/Producer/Editor: Marshall Curry
Producer: Elizabeth Martin
Cinematographer/Producer: Matthew VanDyke
Executive Producer: Vijay Vaidyanathan
Associate Producer: Daniel Koehler
Animation: Joe Posner
Cinematographer: Alan Jacobsen
Original Music: James Baxter
Running Time: 86:46
POV Series Credits:
Executive Producers: Chris White, Simon Kilmurry
Associate Producer: Nicole Tsien
Coordinating Producer: Nikki Heyman
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Independent Television Service (ITVS) funds, presents and promotes award-winning documentaries on public television, innovative new media projects on the Web, and the Emmy® Award-winning weekly series Independent Lens on Monday nights at 10 p.m. on PBS. Mandated by Congress in 1988 and funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, ITVS has brought thousands independently produced programs to American audiences. For more, visit itvs.org.
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