Kirsten Johnson's influences in film

We asked Cameraperson director Kirsten Johnson to pick films that have influenced her work, in her own words.


download (1).jpg

One of my great inspirations as a cameraperson, has always been the work of Jorge Müller Silva, who did phenomenal work under extremely intense conditions while filming The Battle of Chile. Particularly remarkable to me is his observational work during the funeral scene of the Chilean Naval Amiral. Silva was captured, tortured and killed after Pinochet took power and before the film was completed. I have long marveled at the ways that Guzman has struggled with the loss of his filmmaking colleagues and friends, as well as the political changes to his country, in every film he has made since that one. It really felt like he finally found a way in Nostalgia for the Light to go beyond what he knew about the past into a territory of discovery and transformation of self in the actual making of the film.

SANS SOLEIL Chris Marker

I don't know how many times I have watched this film, but I always feel like Marker is speaking straight to me. I have spent a lot of time thinking about colonial and post-colonial history, particularly in African countries. Marker is right in the thick of it historically and it is so great to see a French person struggling directly with his times and his own relationship to colonialism in such an evocative and provocative way. His reflections on what it means to look at other people, to film other people and what happens in the exchange of looks between people are always on my mind when I film.

DIARY Tim Hetherington

I cry every time I watch this film. I knew Tim just barely. When I first saw this film, he was still alive and it was as if he had made a film of the inside of my mind. Because we are about the same age and filmed in almost all of the same places, there is a lot of overlap. We both filmed in Liberia and Afghanistan and the shots of the hotel rooms in the film are probably from the same places I stayed. Tim did a lot of more filming of actual combat than I did, but we shared a very similar patterns of coming and going between multiple worlds that he manages to capture without words in magical editing that connects place to place seamlessly. Tim was killed in Libya in 2011. He was so in the middle of living a beautiful life and doing really bold work that was pushing the boundaries of what it meant to make and see images amidst warfare. When he died, I realized that not only was it an end to him as a person, but that it was the loss of really interesting future work he was on the verge of making. Knowing that he wouldn't be making any more films made me want to be more brave in the making of Cameraperson to honor who he was and what he would have made.

DIAL H-I-S-T-O-R-Y Johan Grimonprez

What is thrilling to me is the lack of literalness in this film. It is completely associative and searches for emotional and visual connections in the most unexpected ways. I grew up in the 1970's, when international hijacking first started. I was very impacted by the images I saw on the news and this film takes me straight into the feelings I had as a child, watching images of planes sitting on runways and all of the fear, frisson, and mystery those images created in me. I feel IN HISTORY watching this movie.


I love the utter physical mania of this movie. Nobody can stop moving! It testifies to the very intrinsic physicality of camerawork. It makes me think that the whole body is a part of the eye. The other critical moment in the movie for me is when Vertov juxtaposes still images against moving images of the same person. It is the most simple, greatest way to show how film keeps people alive in a way that is radically different than a photograph.


I know Raoul well and love and respect him very much. When I first saw Lumumba, I didn't know Raoul, but I was completely taken by the way he was brave enough to enter history with his own voice. I loved the way he combined the footage of historically important people with the quotidien of life, thus implicating everyone in the systems of colonialism and/or possible resistance. So taken by the insights, rhythms and quality of his voice in this film, it took me a long time to give up on the wish for voice-over in Cameraperson.

Where are any films made by women on this list? I think about that now, after the fact. Claire Denis, Agnes Varda, and Chantal Akerman are all filmmakers who matter so much to me,  but this was the shortlist of films, all made by extraordinary men, that influenced me while making Cameraperson.

Cameraperson is coming to UK cinemas on 27 Jan. There is a Skype Q&A with Kirsten Johnson at Curzon Bloomsbury (dochouse) on Fri 27 Jan. Find tickets here.