In Focus Theo Anthony

by Emily Wright and Ricardo Vieira Lisboa / 23 11 2021

When, in early 2021, Theo Anthony's new film "All Light, Everywhere" premiered in the US documentary competition at the Sundance film festival, critics hailed it as a powerful essay-film about video surveillance and the use of body cameras by the police force in the US. Traversing a long historical timeline, Anthony grounds his film in a guided tour of the Arizona-based company Axon Enterprise, the largest supplier of body cameras to the US police force. Axon also owns and operates the server that stores the astronomical amount of body-cam footage, as well as the artificial intelligence systems that analyse the footage and which, like all human creation, are not without their flaws. With this masterful, collage-like rumination on the shared histories of cameras, weapons, policing and justice, the young 32-year-old filmmaker cemented his status as a major new artistic voice in the North-American documentary sphere. 

Anthony’s feature film debut came in 2016 with "Rat Film", which premiered at the Locarno Film Festival. In this visionary debut, the director investigates Baltimore’s rodent infestation and uncovers its political roots, creating an essay film that touches upon the city’s racial problems, urban planning, state influence on segregation and the precarious living conditions of poorer and racialised communities in the US.

With Rat Film, Anthony inaugurated a narrative style defined by a deeply contagious intelligence that would become his trademark. His ability to articulate and combine historical, urbanistic and legal data and statistics into a filmic object that never loses its grip on the spectator is startling. His expansive approach manages to connect theoretical ideas to the lives and concerns of the people Anthony sees and meets. Pulsating with creative energy, imaginative juxtapositions and deep analytical focus, Rat Film also features an experimental soundtrack by Dan Deacon.   

However, it would be his short 2019 film "Subject to Review", commissioned (and broadcast) by the ESPN sports television channel, that would establish Anthony as a nonfiction auteur. Shown at dozens of festivals, including the New York Film Festival, where it premiered, the film – "innocently" concerned with the use of the "Hawk Eye'' instant replay system in professional tennis – turned out to be an electrifying parable about the limits of the perception of reality and, as such, the limits of justice.

It can thus be said that the short but brilliant work that Theo Anthony has developed so far has the depth and complexity of a Harun Farocki, a Chris Marker or Jean-Luc Godard, with the playful accessibility of a Ken Burns. Across his filmography, Anthony demonstrates a keen interest in probing the complexity of an ‘objective’ point of view, revealing the bias of vision, including his own. 

Full program HERE. 

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