Saturday, November 29, 2014

"Point and Shoot": a young man becomes a conflict journalist and humanitarian soldier at the same time, in the world's most dangerous places

Point and Shoot”, directed by Marshall Curry, may be the penultimate autobiographical selfie movie, and it may be the nearly final challenge to selfishness. 

The subject is Matthew Vandyke, a tall, blondish and good looking man who sits in his brownstone in Baltimore, where he grew up, and tells his life story to the camera.  He graduated from Georgetown, and decided he needed to define his manhood, to face the world on his own.  That sounds strange because it still didn’t have a “regular job”. And he really doesn’t explain where he gets the money for his globetrotting.

He also explains his psychological issues, including OCD, which often makes him retrace his steps.  His discussion resembles that of Bud Clayman in the film "OC87" reviewed here Nov. 22, 2014. 
He buys some video gear and flies to Europe, then goes down to north Africa and buys a motorcycle and does a great tour. He eventually travels to Iraq and Afghanistan and makes some money as a contract conflict videographer for a news organization.  He makes great friends, adapting to the new culture, most of all when in Libya.  He returns to Baltimore and reunites with his girlfriend. In early 2011, he watches the Arab Spring and the rebellion in Libya.  He decided that out of loyalty to his friends, he is morally compelled to go and help fight for them. He flies out abruptly.  When he lands, he drives from Cairo to Benghazi, getting across the border, and then to Bayda. 
Only about eight minutes of the film, skillfully animated, show his nearly six months in Gaddafi’s prison. He benefits from an abetted escape and feels a bit like a celebrity for the rest of the war.
The men accept him as Christian (apparently Roman Catholic) and never try to convert him to Islam. 
There comes a point where he is asked to shoot an enemy whom he can actually see as a human being. He later learns that he missed, but the event makes him reconsider his values as a conscience soldier, which is not the same thing as mercenary. 
In the QA (at Landmark E Street in Washington November 29, sold out), Vandyke explains his plans to do humanitarian work in Iraq and (I think) Syria.  He mentioned ISIS, but did not seem concerned about the now obvious risk.
I spoke to him after the QA, and he feels very strongly that there is moral obligation sometimes to step up to defend other people.  In the QA he actually said, “I believe in revolution.”  So does Katniss in "Hunger Games" (Nov. 27).  I did say to him that his loyalty to come to his friends paralleled the shaming by ISIS of Muslims in western countries for staying homes when their "brothers" are being attacked, and he did not disagree.  
But I think Vandyke's view needs to be seen as a personal moral position, not a political one based on any religion or ideology (or belonging to a predefined "group").  In any civilization, there are things all competent adults should be able to step up to, when the need is great enough. People should be able to give CPR, to swim and water rescue, perhaps.  I don't carry rifles to defend other people, but I'm 71.  But there are other things, like sometimes being able to care or other people's children.  Is this the right spin?   All this brings back my own experience with the Vietnam era male-only draft, and student deferments. 
So, is he a journalist, a soldier, or an aid worker?  He is all three.  Normally, journalism is seen as being in conflict of the other two, because journalism purports to be “objective”.  But Vandyke (who renamed himself “Matt Hunter” after his movie heroes) has really bridged all of these. 
At the QA, another person made a pitch for the James W. Foley Legacy Fund, link here.   Foley was a journalist murdered by ISIS earlier this year while in captivity.


The official site is here. (The Orchard, and PBS POV). 
The end credits are followed by a brief epilogue, where Vandyke plays "Easy Rider" in the desert, breezing past camels. 

There;s an interesting historical sidelight. The weekend Osama bin Laden was killed (May 2, 2011, on a Sunday night), there was a lot of NATO bombing over Libya that may have been a diversion, making people believe Gadaffu would fall immediately.  Vandyke did briefly mention the Benghazi attack in the QA. 
A good comparison of this film could be made with “Rosewater” (Nov. 16). 

First picture: near Baltimore Inner Harbor, Feb. 2014, my visit.  

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