A sharp, subtle critique on the nature of tourism and photography, the enigmatic documentary Camera, Camera follows a handful of diverse Westerners traveling through Laos, paying special attention to the snapshots they take along the way. Making his feature-length debut, director-cinematographer Malcolm Murray has created a tone-poem about this Southeast Asian nation’s seductive hold on outsiders, introducing us to college kids looking to party, old men seeking easy sex, and professional wanderers trying to find their place. With the help of writer-interviewer Michael Meyer, Murray’s film becomes a profound rumination on people’s desire to escape themselves by venturing into seemingly exotic foreign lands cut off from the conventions of Western society. Though a gorgeously-shot portrait of Laos’s idyllic, mysterious beauty, this documentary ultimately questions the reliability of images and the motives of sightseers, examining how a traveler’s camera—or a filmmaker’s lens—ends up distorting its subject’s meaning, transforming untouched locales into representations of the outsider’s own experiences and desires. By exploring the politics behind wanderlust, Camera, Camera is a travelogue that packs a sting. [Synopsis courtesy of LAFF]
(USA, 2009, 60 mins, HDCam — Frame Rate 23.98)
Directed By: Malcolm Murray
Executive Producers: Malcolm Murray, Michael Meyer, Josh Haner
Producer: Josh Haner
Screenwriter: Michael Meyer
Cinematographer: Malcolm Murray
Editor: Malcolm Murray
Music: Godspeed You! Black Emperor, James Blackshaw, Explosions in the Sky
[EDITOR’S NOTE: indieWIRE is profiling the Narrative and Documentary Competition filmmakers who are screening their films at the Los Angeles Film Festival]
Murray’s roots as a filmmaker
I started filming my friends skateboarding when I was 15 years old and have been around cameras ever since. This is my first feature but I’ve made lots of shorts and I also direct commercials. Most recently I made a film for Stella Artois called “Up There.” I became a filmmaker because film is the only medium I understand well enough to ask really complicated questions. It’s become a language I use for the largest questions in my life. I think that good films make the world a richer place.
Murray on documenting his travels…
I first traveled to Laos in 2006 and was immediately struck by all the flashes I saw going off. A few days into my journey, I began feeling I wouldn’t ever be able to understand the country I was traveling through, but that I needed to record some of my questions by making a film. I showed some of my initial footage to Michael Meyer, who is a journalist and author, and we decided to return to Laos to make a feature film. He brought his own questions and we began quite an adventure.
On coming to the idea for “Camera Camera”…
Mike and I realized early on that we couldn’t control a place like Laos. We gave up on planning anything and tried our best to document things we were feeling, people we were meeting, and places we were experiencing. Our approach was a strange blend of highly intellectual and highly emotional decision making and was aided by the fact that Josh Haner, our producer, seemed to attract interesting people and places everywhere he went. The goal from the beginning was to make a film that was as complex as Laos is. My challenge as the film’s director and cinematographer was to convey the confusing and sometimes ugly sides of the country but also to provide rich images that captured the beauty of the place. I think a lot of the film’s tension comes out of my attempts to strike this balance. On the shoot and in the edit, Mike figured out how to craft a narrative that was true to the complications and turned an unruly bunch of footage into a story that (we hope!) allows audiences access to the country.. What Mike was able to balance continues to amaze me.
On bringing the film to an audience…
Watching our film may feel to some people like looking in a mirror- many of us have taken photographs in foreign countries and the film could be about any of us. And we filmmakers are the same as our subjects- people in a foreign country with a camera in our hands. Cameras have become such a constant presence in our lives and we sometimes forget to think about what strange and powerful devices they are. I hope people walk away thinking about how they use their cameras, both at home and abroad. “Camera, Camera” asks lots of questions but doesn’t give many answers. That’s up to the audience.
On the Morris effect…
I love Errol Morris’ films, particularly his early work. Morris talks about how you can reinvent the form every time you make a documentary. We took that to heart and tried to make something unlike anything we’d ever seen.
In the works…
In July I began shooting my first narrative feature film. My friends and I have talked for years about making a film about things we experienced while growing up in Albuquerque. Neda Armian, who produced “Rachel Getting Married” heard about our project and told me that if we were ready to shoot this summer, she would produce the film. So we got ready to shoot!