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Cameraperson: A womans life behind the camera

Cameraperson: A woman’s life behind the camera

To celebrate women in film, this International Women’s Day our partner Picturehouse Cinemas is holding a special screening of the award-winning documentary Cameraperson.

Cameraperson is a memoir of Kirsten Johnson’s career behind the camera. From rape and sexual violence in Bosnia, to delivering babies in Nigeria, to her mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s, Cameraperson has a strong focus on the stories and difficulties of women.

To win tickets to our special screening of Cameraperson on Wednesday 8 March at Picturehouse Central. Simply tell us on our Facebook page who is the bravest girl you know and why! Need inspiration - see what Kirsten said? 

We caught up with Kirsten to find out more about her experience following stories of incredibly brave women around the world.

You have followed the stories of women and girls that have been through horrendous ordeals throughout your career, what did you learn from these women?

It took me some time to understand how epidemic the challenges are that women face around the world. Particularly in places where resources are scarce, girls are often the last to benefit. So [my experience has] been from watching small girls carry huge buckets of water for their families, to not going to school, or seeing too young girls in the maternity ward - girls whose bodies aren’t ready to be mothers yet. So I’ve been educated over time by how many obstacles and challenges young girls are up against around the world.

I always find it interesting when girls watch me. Many times, I’m the first woman like me that they’ve seen - a woman who’s in some kind of position of power and is making choices on her own. I can move freely, talk who I want to, and that is meaningful to people living in constraints. It can be completely intriguing to them.  

As a western woman working in countries that place different values on a woman’s place in society – did you face any challenges filming?

For a long time I was always asked ‘are you married,’ ‘do you have children,’ and I didn’t have children until I was 41 years old so for a very long time the answer of ‘no’ was really significant to people of where I was. I would be the object of pity or curiosity.
There’s a certain assumption in certain parts of the world that you can’t exist as a woman if you’re not married with children. And yet there I was existing and enjoying myself.
And now I am a mother that is another place where we can have really interesting conversations: ‘where are my children’ and ‘what are my children doing without me.’ Similarly in the period of time when my mother had Alzheimer’s, a lot of people wondered why I wasn’t at home taking care of her. So those assumptions about a woman’s obligations, you definitely engage with when you’re working in the world.

The bravest woman

Can you tell us about the bravest woman you have met?

I always find the 11 year olds [girls] to be remarkably bold and brave.
11 is this amazing age for a girl in which she feels incredibly confident and is curious and capable and yet not preoccupied by whether she will be loved by men or what will happen to her in her romantic state or her fate of being a mother.
That’s one of the things I always do, wherever I am in the world, I identify who are the 11 year olds and it’s always revelatory. It’s a cusp age that to me always says something about what the potential is and then you see 13-14 year olds and see how much different they are to the 11 year olds. You can see how much constraint there is [for them] in a particular society.  

On International Women’s Day, what key messages would you like the audience to take away from the women you have filmed over your career?

Well I find women to be thrilling. Because women do understand by necessity how much we need each other and so I love the way that women rely on each other and contribute to each other.
That’s the thing I celebrate throughout the world, despite the incredible challenges we’re up against that we know how to work together and know how to have a make do with less than the resources we need.
And I also think women know how to have a good time. We know how to laugh at the absurdity of some of the situations we’re in.

You’ve made a career out of telling and showing other people’s stories to the world. How do think communicating these stories helps them?

I don’t assume that these stories always help. But shame is one of the greatest creators of violence, when we hide certain things because they are not supposed to be. I believe that being a human is a very complicated thing and if we can be emotionally brave we are contributing to the end of violence.

Who’s your biggest role model?

I think so many role models are scattered throughout the world but who comes to mind in this moment of time...I think about the midwife [from Nigeria] in Cameraperson. The way in which she understands the enormity of the situation she’s in and she’s clear minded about going to work and [being] as steady and as focused as she can. And she’s going to attempt to save every baby and mother she can despite the fact that there’s no blood bank at the hospital and they don’t have the resources. She’s just going to treat everybody tenderly and do her work. There’s a great modesty to it and an incredible stamina.

We follow the story of your Mum’s illness in the film. What was your Mum like growing up and did she have any influence on your choice of career?

My mother was an incredible visual person, she loved to take photographs and she loved to talk about the beauty of things. It’s interesting because my mother suffered the loss of her mother at a pretty young age of, she was in a car accident, at 20, and my mother was driving the car. And I think like many people who have suffered a violent loss of someone they love, she wanted to see beauty. And in my adolescent years I was always pushing back and saying you need to see the ugly things in the world.
You know as I’ve travelled around the world, I’ve realised those who have really suffered violence in some way need and seek beauty.
But I’m deeply grateful to her, there’s no question that her kindness and her tenderness has really encouraged me in the way that I try to be in the world.

As a mother what are your hopes for your daughter for the future?

I hope that my daughter feels like she can follow her curiosity wherever it leads her in her life.

Win tickets

To watch Cameraperson on International Women’s Day

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