Sometimes a filmmaker stumbles across a perfect title, and “Point and Shoot” is one of those. Matthew VanDyke picked up a video camera and went to north Africa to document the Libyan rebellion against Moammar Gadhafi. Then he picked up a gun. After watching Marshall Curry’s documentary about him, you’ll ask yourself whether VanDyke is a brave man or a poseur, a freedom fighter or a self-aggrandizer. The film won’t provide answers, and that’s what Curry wants.
Curry, who lived in Charlotte in the 1980s – he went to Charlotte Latin School and Country Day School from fourth through eighth grades – has twice been nominated for Oscars, for “Street Fight” and “If a Tree Falls.” (He and producer Elizabeth Martin will do a Q-and-A after the 8 p.m. show Friday at Ballantyne Village Cinemas, 14815 John J. Delaney Drive.)
This film marks a departure: He’s working mostly from footage VanDyke shot, and Curry created his movie as much through his editing as his direction. The ambiguity extends to the last frame, where Curry’s off-camera voice asks VanDyke if he thinks he accomplished what he set out to do. Curry fades to black before the reply, leaving us to make up our own minds.
We should be ready to do so by that point. We’ve met the Baltimorean who lived at home while attending Georgetown University, friendless and fixated on video games. We’ve seen him talk about his obsessive-compulsive behavior and his decision to “do something extraordinary,” which meant traveling overseas on his new motorcycle.
VanDyke documented that trip on tape, even shooting scenes of U.S. military action in Afghanistan. He meets Nuri, a Libyan hippie, and stays in Libya to join Nuri’s friends before coming home to his girlfriend and mom in 2010. But when civil war breaks out in Libya months later, he goes back as a documentarian, then a soldier on the rebels’ side. Eventually, he asks someone to take a picture of him trying to make his first kill – just as enlisted U.S. soldiers asked VanDyke to do for them in Afghanistan.
We can admire his courage and noble instincts while finding him naive or self-impressed. We can assume VanDyke put himself in the best possible light in his footage; he could’ve excised anything he didn’t want the world to see. So we have to take VanDyke not only as Curry presents him to us but as he presented himself to Curry.
We start to wonder whether VanDyke has experiences and then reflects on them or has experiences so that he can reflect on them, turning his whole life into a mirror. His LinkedIn profile now defines him as “International Security Analyst, media commentator/pundit, award-winning documentary filmmaker, combat veteran.” He apparently keeps discovering – or revamping – who he is.