‘All Light, Everywhere’ and the Problems of Perception (FILM REVIEW)

Rating: B-

With the use of personal surveillance technology on the rise amongst police departments across the country, ethical concerns are becoming an increasingly prevalent part of the national dialogue. It’s not untempting to compare the rise of surveillance cameras in general to George Orwell’s 1984—as played out as the comparison has become in today’s climate—and certainly it’s indicative of the kinds of conversations we need to be willing to have as a culture and society.

What even is privacy anymore? Is it dead? Has it ever really existed in the modern era? Or is it an illusion of a bygone era?

Director Theo Anthony explores these questions and others in his new experimental documentary, All Light, Everywhere. Part examination of the rise of surveillance technology and body cameras in modern policing and part exploration of camera development and its use in the scientific process, the film opens some heavy doors and offers audiences a unique, philosophical take on the issue at hand.

Anthony frames his exploration largely on the idea that the existence of an observation fundamentally changes the results of an experiment. The question at hand isn’t so much what the camera shows as it is what the camera doesn’t show. Doing so, he takes us back to the development of the camera and all of the scientific misfires that arose out of that. The examples given funnel us towards a sort of open-ended conclusion about how much faith we can put not just in the cameras but in the companies developing these new tools.

While admittedly this leads us towards some tantalizingly fascinating philosophical paths, the film never quite manages to cross the divide that exists between philosophical pondering and practical application. While there’s a lot of incredible information—including an in depth behind the scenes look at Axon Enterprise, the company who makes not only tasers but also the bulk of all police body cameras today—that can help guide us on our opinion making journey, so much of All Light, Everywhere feels too esoteric for its own good.

Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The philosophical bent of the film certainly brings new dimensions into the discussion of our increasingly surveilled culture, where (as the film shows) private companies can track the movements of cars and people from the sky, but for all its pondering the film can never really explain how their questions are pertinent in any real way.

From a filmmaking perspective, All Light, Everywhere is unique in its approach and is indicative of Anthony’s skill as a documentary filmmaker and his ability to pierce issues on a deep, intellectual level. But that also might be his biggest weakness, as his film here becomes so weighed down by the esoteric and never really manages to make its point. Or maybe that is the point? Who can say. We’re all just observers, after all.

All Light, Everywhere is now playing in select theaters.

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