If it’s possible for a film to be both deeply meditative and startlingly evocative at the same time, All Light, Everywhere may just be that film. A documentary by Theo Anthony (Rat Film), All Light, Everywhere starts at the existential, exploring the biology of the human eye and the metaphorical meaning of the way our eyes actually capture and decipher imagery. Fairly quickly, however, Anthony segues to something seemingly disconnected, an interview with a spokesperson for Axon Technology, a manufacturer of every kind of defense mechanism you can imagine, including body cams worn by police officers around the country. And so, the connection is revealed: the grand scale of all that we can take in with our own eyes and the techonology behind the “eyes” of technology like a body camera. The film goes into far greater detail than this, of course, exploring everything from early astronomers charting the passage of Venus through the sky to the very first moving images captured by photographers seeking to see beyond what the naked eye can capture. The film covers quite a lot of ground, to say the least, and yet Anthony ties it all together in ways that not only make it an interesting film, but an essential one.
Narrated by a woman who only introduces herself as “an actress” (Keaver Brenai), All Light, Everywhere is as much a history lesson as it is an exploration of the current state of surveillance in the modern world. Returning again and again to Axon and the various product demonstrations they’re so eager to share, it only becomes more clear how misplaced the very basis of their approach to policing and defense is—a fact the spokesperson is either willfully or naively ignorant about. Everyone is a “suspect” or a “perpetrator” in his world view, every interaction is reviewed through the lens of the justice system, what would and would not hold up in court. By the time Anthony takes us out to a field in the desert where Axon shows off every weapon in their arsenal, from tasers to body cams to automated drones and more, it’s enough to make even the most pro-militarized among us wonder if we haven’t gone too far in the way we arm our civil servants.
And this, in the end, is Anthony’s whole point. The light, all of it illuminating everything, is never the same from one person to the next. Just because we all see it doesn’t mean we all see it. At one point, the film introduces us to the creator of a spy plane that was for a time hovering over Baltimore and snapping one photo per second from its 12 wide-lens cameras, unbeknownst to most of the city’s residents, including the mayor. When that program was shut down (because, um….no.), the business owner is forced to find new ways to sell his technology, so he hires ambassadors to help him engage communities in high-crime areas in order to sell his surveillance equipment to them. In the film’s most riveting scene, the residents who attend the meeting engage in a heated conversation about bringing these cameras into the community and the level of surveillance they are, in fact, already under, whether they realize it or not. Anthony’s ability to seemingly make the camera disappear in moments like this make the film a nearly visceral experience, as if you’re in the room during these tense, compelling moments.
Much of what works best in All Light, Everywhere is the way the filmmaker is able to tie these seemingly disparate things together, many of them images and vignettes that aren’t about furthering any particular narrative at all. From crowds gathered to watch a solar eclipse to subjects participating in a science experiment about brainwaves to those astronomers and early filmmakers, it’s all as often obscure as it is fascinating. By examining how we see what we see, how that’s changed over time and what it means when we’re all seeing differently, All Light, Everywhere offers an invitation to (maybe, just maybe) see things from someone else’s perspective now and then.
All Light, Everywhere is now playing in theaters, including Chicago’s Landmark Century Cinema.
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