Streaming Surprises, Volume 9

In the visual memoir “Cameraperson,” documentary cinematographer Kirsten Johnson is rarely seen, but we feel her presence in every scene. (Credit: Janus Films)

Our “Streaming Surprises” series calls attention to good movies new and old. Titles are available from various streaming services.

“Cameraperson” (2016)
A tapestry of footage from the cutting room floor. An autobiographical collage. A visual memoir. Call it what you will, but “Cameraperson” will defy easy description for generations of filmmakers to come. Well-traveled documentary cinematographer Kirsten Johnson pastes together small moments from a 25-year collection of her unused footage from around the world. These small moments — from Brooklyn to Bosnia, from Texas to Guantanamo Bay, from a Nigerian hospital to her own home — add up to something magical when juxtaposed anew. The episodic format might seem jarring for some viewers. But with patience, the movement from segment to segment reveals profound visual commentary on filmmaking and meaning-making. We only see Johnson herself twice in the film and both moments are fleeting, but we feel her grace and presence throughout.
Submitted by Jefferson Beavers. Available on Amazon Prime.

“The Edge of Seventeen” (2016)
Teenage angst, insecurity, and social awkwardness are familiar to anyone who survived their teen years. But nothing about “The Edge of Seventeen” feels like a rerun. In her debut feature film, director/writer Kelly Fremon Craig has woven together 102 minutes of a movie that never sags. Her 17-year-old heroine Nadine’s typically over-the-top emotional reactions to very real teenage drama seems to be her coping mechanism. One of her other coping mechanisms is dropping in on her history teacher at lunchtime and unloading her problems on him. Woody Harrelson is perfectly cast as the entirely unsympathetic and dry teacher who, somehow without trying, helps her. When Nadine’s best (and only) friend takes up with Nadine’s older brother, her world falls apart. Her attempts to find a way to fit in and a world to fit into are both painful and hilarious. The entire movie is a wonderful mixture of poignancy and pain and humor – engaging from beginning to end.
Submitted by Linda Knight. Available on Amazon and Netflix.

“Fire at Sea” (2016)
In “Fire at Sea,” Italian documentary filmmaker Gianfranco Rosi examines the European migrant crisis intimately and from afar, setting its narrative on a small island called Lampedusa. Lampedusa would otherwise be like any other small Mediterranean island except for its recent status as the entrance to Europe for hundreds of thousands of African and Middle Eastern refugees fleeing crisis and tragedy. The island is now synonymous with images of bodies pulled from the sea, wreckage of makeshift rafts strewn about, and cramped bodies burned by diesel fumes. When the migrants do make it to shore, it isn’t for very long. The island lacks the infrastructure to accommodate them so they pass through like phantoms, but the violence of their struggle lingers on in the memories and experiences of the locals. Instead of a lecture, Rosi focuses on the experiences of a close outside observer, a young local boy. Through the young boy, the audience learns the culture of the Lampedusan people and their experiences with the events that surround and shape them.
Submitted by Cassandra Ruby. Available on Amazon.