'What am I? Am I a filmmaker, or am I a fighter?"
These are the questions Matthew VanDyke found himself asking - on camera, of course - as he joined rebel fighters in 2011 Libya, firing at Gadhafi loyalists and filming himself and his comrades in the blaze of battle.
The answer to VanDyke's query is tricky. In Point and Shoot, Marshall Curry's fascinating, far-reaching documentary about the Baltimore native's journey into video journalism and armed revolution, a portrait emerges of a deeply self-reflective man - a man whose childhood imagination was informed by action movies and video games, and whose adulthood has been the stuff of those same movies and games, by his design.
Point and Shoot begins with VanDyke showing off the knives he (still presumably) carries, and the body armor he wore in Libya, and in Afghanistan, where in 2010, he embedded himself with U.S. troops. Although he had a master's degree with a focus on Arab studies from Georgetown University, VanDyke, in his mid-20s, had never traveled to the Middle East, or anywhere, really. He was sheltered, and although he had a girlfriend (Lauren Fischer), VanDyke was accustomed to being alone, capturing his musings on his cellphone camera.
In 2007, however, with no job and no idea how to live independently in the world, VanDyke challenged himself to do "something drastic." He bought a ticket to Gibraltar and a Kawasaki motorcycle, and embarked on a "crash course in manhood," traveling through North Africa and the Middle East for two years. He returned for another solo motorcycle trip in 2010, rolling through Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan.
Footage from VanDyke's travels provides the first-person narrative thrust to Point and Shoot, but Curry's interviews with VanDyke, back in his Baltimore home, are what give the film its larger, more challenging context.
VanDyke - who spent 51/2 months locked away in Libyan prisons - says that the civil war in Libya was "the most-filmed war in history," that the rebels he fought alongside "had a cellphone camera in one hand and an AK-47 in the other." In the age of social media, that kind of instant documentation assures that the word - or, more significant, the pictures - are disseminated. The Arab Spring caught fire because of Facebook, because of Twitter.
Yet, what VanDyke set out to do, and what he recorded in the process, also speaks to the issue of social media as an epic enabler of narcissism.
Point and Shoot is as much about the collective movement toward Me-ism as it is about VanDyke's assiduously self-crafted journey.
Either way, it makes for a great story.
Point and Shoot *** (Out of four stars)
Directed by Matthew Curry. With Matthew VanDyke, Lauren Fischer, Nuri Funas, Ali Mohamed Zwi. Distributed by the Orchard.
Runing time: 1 hour, 25 mins.
Parent's guide: No MPAA rating (war footage, adult themes).
Playing at: Ritz at the Bourse.EndText