In 2017, the filmmaker Theo Anthony launched “Rat Film,” an improbably poetic, intellectually dazzling, politically astute documentary on the seemingly prosaic matter of rats and their place in the trendy city panorama. “All Light, Everywhere,” Anthony’s new film, ponders a extra summary, much less earthbound array of topics — the physiology of human imaginative and prescient, the historical past of pictures, the ethics of surveillance — in the same spirit of open-minded, morally pressing inquiry. If the connections Anthony attracts are typically obscure and never all the time persuasive, which may be a threat constructed into his essayistic, undogmatic method to actuality.
And the try to seize actuality in transferring photographs occurs to be what “All Light, Everywhere” is about. It begins with a quote from William Blake: “As the Eye — such the Object.” In different phrases, imaginative and prescient determines the form of what’s seen. Rather than a easy image of actuality, the digicam selects, frames and interprets, typically in the service of energy and beliefs.
This is very worrisome when the digicam is doing the work of regulation enforcement. Anthony’s principal concern is the use of video and different types of image-gathering in policing, a apply whose claims of objectivity come beneath regular, skeptical strain.
Some of the strain comes from voice-over narration, written by Anthony and browse by Keaver Brenai, that bristles with rhetorical questions (“what future does history dream of?”) and theoretical formulations. The musical rating, by Dan Deacon, provides an air of menace and suspense which typically overwhelms the photographs.
Luckily, the philosophical flights and historic disquisitions are affixed to a sturdy and eye-opening documentary construction. Anthony and his crew take a tour of the Arizona headquarters of Axon, which manufactures each Tasers and physique cameras. An upbeat firm spokesman explains the connection between these merchandise, and his pitch is rooted in the honest religion that free enterprise and technological innovation can deal with issues of public security and authorities accountability.
Is he promoting progress or dystopia? An analogous query haunts the mysterious focus group that convenes now and again onscreen, and in addition the Baltimore Police Department coaching session dedicated to Axon physique cameras. There, officers look bored and suspicious as a sergeant walks them via insurance policies and procedures he claims will profit the police at the least as a lot because it protects the rights of residents.
In observing these interactions — and a Baltimore group assembly on the use of airplane-mounted cameras to trace motion on metropolis streets — Anthony teases out the disturbing political implications of strategies which can be typically offered as impartial or benevolent.
We wish to assume that photos don’t lie, and that information has no bias. But Anthony suggests not solely that there’s all the time a perspective at work, but in addition that photographs and data are readily weaponized by these with energy, used for the classification and management of these with out it.
In a fashion that’s affected person — and typically even playful — moderately than polemical, “All Light, Everywhere” contributes to debates about crime, policing, racism and accountability. In its ultimate moments it gestures past these arguments, towards a really completely different set of concepts about what cameras can do. A quick epilogue paperwork Anthony’s involvement in a filmmaking program for Baltimore highschool college students, an expertise the director admits he couldn’t work out match into this film.
Its inclusion nonetheless provides the glimmer of a counterargument to a troubling account of a few of the methods Big Brother is watching us — a reminder that the remainder of us have eyes, too. And cameras.
All Light, Everywhere
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes. In theaters.