All Light, Everywhere is not a typical documentary. Instead of presenting you with facts, it presents you with a series of impressions. Those impressions lead to ideas, which in turn lead to revelations. Director Theo Anthony (Rat Film) has just the right approach. A straightforward examination of his subject would come off as political, causing people to instinctively fall back on whatever their preconceived notions are. In giving the film a more poetic, lyrical style, Anthony invites viewers to open their minds and actively think. You might not find a more necessary doc this year.
The topic is surveillance, especially as it pertains to policing. We meet a lot of people with a vested interest in that. The spokesman for a company that makes tasers and body cameras gives a tour of their factory. A Baltimore cop conducts a class teaching officers how to use their body cams. A businessman shows off the technology his firm created, which lets an airplane photograph cities from above, thereby allowing a clearer picture of civil unrest. In each case, the intent is to provide an unbiased account of whatever happens when law enforcement meets the public.
Is a lack of bias really possible, though? All Light, Everywhere argues not. Anthony provides a history of attempts to capture “reality” through photography and other means. Even when standardized to eliminate personal influence, these things rarely, if ever, produced a uniform result. Theoretically, that means that the latest tech has its own limitations, as well. Body cams, it is pointed out, have fish-eye lenses that distort proximity and exaggerate motion, so they don't offer 100% reliable proof. Similarly, cameras of any sort capture only whatever they're pointed at, meaning anything important outside the frame isn't part of the context.
These are the types of issues the documentary asks us to consider. It also goes further. One of the most captivating sequences takes us inside an inner city community meeting, where Black citizens debate – often hotly – whether that camera-laden plane will help or hurt interactions with police. The “pro” argument is that it could shine a light on police brutality of the Freddie Gray type. The “con,” as one gentleman points out, is that African-American communities are already scrutinized enough as it is, and this could be used to unfairly target them further.
Rather that relying on a straightforward narrative, Anthony weaves all of this material together in a fashion that initially seems random, yet gradually reveals great strategy. Scenes compliment or contrast the one that came right before, forcing you to contemplate them more heavily. Additional footage of someone's optic nerve and people watching the solar eclipse are interspersed with the main “story” threads to remind us that everyone has their own perspective, so achieving one foolproof conclusion about anything is impossible.
All Light, Everywhere encourages viewers to engage with its subject matter. This is not a documentary to passively watch. Its unconventional approach forces you to dig deeper and challenge your own automatic thoughts. In light of events over the past few years, our society needs this movie right now.
out of four
All Light, Everywhere is unrated but contains some adult language and mature themes. The running time is 1 hour and 49 minutes.