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How ‘Point and Shoot’ Went from Elaborate Selfie to Doc Awards Contender

How 'Point and Shoot' Went from Elaborate Selfie to Doc Awards Contender

“Halloween may not be a great night to open a movie,” says documentarian Marshall Curry, “but the Hollywood Reporter did call it a ‘nonfiction thriller’ so I’ve been telling people it’s appropriate.”

The appropriate movie is “Point and Shoot,” Curry’s multi-layered Mideast adventure-cum-cultural-critique on which he served as a kind of ghost writer with attitude: It was Matt VanDyke — American adventurer, soldier-of-fortune, partisan in the Libyan War, POW — who brought back the footage that makes up “Point and Shoot,” and who turned a fascination with Arabia into a motorcycle trip from Europe to Africa; sojourns in various hotspots; a term as a freelance war correspondent embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq, and, almost immediately upon his return to the United States, a return to Libya to help his friends fight their war.

But it was Curry who turned VanDyke’s remarkable footage into a movie with intellectual heft, an examination not just of what manhood means, but our fascination with committing our lives to whatever manner of digital recording apparatus we have handy. VanDyke’s footage was an elaborate selfie. Curry turned it into a film that has just been nominated for both International Documentary Association and Gotham Awards and may well be in the running for Best Documentary at the Oscars.

“I think most people have been getting it — the film’s complex point of view — the way I intended,” said Curry, who premiered his movie at Tribeca last spring. “It’s an exploration of a complex guy who invites audiences make their own judgments about him.”

And about the culture, too? “Definitely,” Curry said, “including the way people use cameras not just to document their lives but to craft their lives – that was one of the things that really interested me.”

It’s not just Matt VanDyke whom we see do it, Curry said. “We see America soldiers in Iraq ask him to re-film their kicking in a door because they want to look like their idealized notion of what a soldier looks like — even though they’re actually soldiers. And the Libyans as well — guys spraying gunfire in the middle of a battle while three other people are filming him on cell phones, so they can have something to keep as souvenirs, or show their girlfriends.”

Not everyone has reacted to VanDyke, the film’s ostensible hero, the same way.

“Well, some people like him a lot, some don’t like him so much,” Curry said. “Some, similarly, have criticized me as being overly sympathetic to him, and others – the Times review came out today – said I turned the tables on him. I guess when you’re getting it from both sides maybe you’ve found the sweet spot.”

VanDyke was quite blunt, back when he was making the rounds at Tribeca, about wanting an Oscar-nominated filmmaker to transform his rather astounding footage into a film. Curry has been nominated twice, for “Street Fights” (2005) and “If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front” (2011).

“I think he talked to a number of filmmakers whom he’d looked up, and he saw that I was nominated twice in the last few years,” Curry said. “It’s a little bit funny.” He laughed a little. “But it was meeting him and hearing him tell his story, which was many layered and fascinating, and then seeing his footage, which made me want to get involved.”

The Orchard opens “Point and Shoot” in theaters today.

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