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Saturday, June 19th, 2010

LA Film Fest Review: CAMERA, CAMERA

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Camera, Camera, a new documentary in competition at this year’s Los Angeles Film Festival, reveals itself slowly.  Beginning with a cavalcade of lush images of Laos, the viewer is first allowed to observe local life as it happens, without voiceover, without much editorial interference.  As it continues there’s a shift; from photographing the landscape itself to filming its photographers.

Using cameras as a linking device to comment on what it means to be a tourist,  Malcolm Murray’s film is an abstract travelogue that gets under your skin.  Over the course of the film, a number of subjects are interviewed.  All are white, (or in some cases, formerly white, now tan) and none are identified by name.  All of the subjects seemed to have come to Laos for different reasons; an older man from the UK explains his desire to get away from the horrors on the evening news and rationalizes his habit of paying the locals for sex; a college age student describes her goal of becoming a photojournalist, another man reveals how he stunned the local police by blithely agreeing to buy back his passport for $1,000.  In addition to the cameras, the subjects all share a sense of white privilege which supercedes all thoughts of how their actions impact the local culture. 

None of the interview subjects are identified by name, but a few of them display a greater sensitivity.  One woman reveals how she’s constantly learning new meanings from the people around her, and another man laments how it’s becoming harder and harder to escape to a destination that’s not already teeming with Westerners.

The film was produced by New York Times photographer Josh Haner, and the filmmakers effectively display why Laos is such a popular tourist destination. Whether sitting and looking out over the Mekon or describing the sounds of the forest as “a living orchestra”, there’s no question that this is one of the most beautiful places on Earth.  Other worldly music from the likes of Godspeed You Black Emperor and Explosions in the Sky only amplifies this effect.

Camera, Camera is only an hour long, which could explain why the filmmakers are less concerned with how Laos is complicit with the tourism trade.  A country whose people are this impoverished can hardly be blamed for exploiting one of their only viable industries,  but we get very little insight into how the Lao people got this way.  With the exception of the police bribe, there’s no mention of how the government functions, which is, perhaps, the point.  A glaring exception to this comes at the end of the film’s credits, where the Lao crew is thanked, but not by name, due to the fact that the country of Laos doesn’t have a free press.  It’s hard to imagine a stronger indictment of the tourist gaze.

Camera, Camera
will have its World Premiere at the LA Film Festival on Saturday June 19th at 4:00 at the Regal Cinemas at LA Live.  Director Malcolm Murray and Executive Producer Michael Meyer are expected to attend.  The film will screen with the short Madgascar, A Journey Diary, and will have additonal screenings June 21st at 10:15 and June 23rd at 5:00.

Written by Jefferson Root on 06/19 at 01:51 PM