New Directors/New Films’ closing night selection ‘All Light, Everywhere’ interrogates the unavoidable biases that hinder pursuit of objective truth. Screened virtually and in person during the New York City festival, the film’s theatrical release is set for June 4th, 2021.
American film director Theo Anthony is skilled at dissecting systemic disparities that lie at the heart of contemporary society’s most pressing issues. In Rat Film, the filmmaker’s 2016 feature documentary, he positions Baltimore’s rat infestation as a passage through which to explore the city’s complicated racial history. In All Light, Everywhere, Anthony confronts the notion that a camera can accurately mimic a human eye, tracing the technological advances in photography and weaponry that intersect to shape modern surveillance practices in public and private sector initiatives.
Throughout the film Keaver Brenai serves as our narrator, pausing between historical accounts to pose philosophical questions that reflect on the feasibility of unbiased perception. Does the body camera reproduce the world, or produce new worlds? Anthony effectively weaves these narrative sequences with scenes where he turns the camera back onto the people and systems that exploit its use. One such prime focus of the film follows Steve Tuttle of Axon, a company that makes tasers and body cameras, as he gives a tour of headquarters and a product demonstration to Anthony’s crew. It’s clear the intention behind these devices is to aid a policeman – the taser, in diffusing an escalating situation; the camera, in relaying their version of events if ever brought to court. Anthony probes the efficacy of these operational aims, presenting the alternative view that technology is often weaponized against those it claims to protect.
Anthony bolsters this analysis in his treatment of Persistent Surveillance Systems, a company that provides birds-eye, in real time footage for the city of Baltimore. The notion that big brother is watching is never more disturbingly verifiable than in scenes surrounding this subject; in one, a controller of the company’s drone tech traces the movements of an ant-sized human on-screen, discussing the device’s mission to uncover crime throughout the city.
While the film executes, in essayist form, an investigation into the shared consequences of technology meant to make up for our blind spots, it does harbor oversight of its own. In particular the various voiceover sequences, in which philosophical meditations – posited to make us question the nature of subjectivity – felt often overwrought in their free-associative approach. Some assertions felt almost too meta for the subject it was dealing with it, obscuring the connection between the conceptual narrative claims and the material history it meant to map these claims onto.
The film succeeds as quality documentaries do, in offering up a breadth of perspectives for subjective interpretation. All Light, Everywhere, by nature of the subject it examines, goes further to turn the camera’s gaze back onto the audience – imploring us as to question our own voyeuristic role in an ever-expanding surveillance state.