In an awards season dominated by Richard Linklater’s glorious Boyhood, there’s been a great deal of chatter about the theme of growing up in cinema. So what a perfect time for the release of Point and Shoot, which is not only a tremendous documentary, but a worthy addition to this discussion.
Matthew VanDyke, an overly dependent American twenty-something, decides to undertake a ‘crash course in manhood’ inspired by a child-like love of adventure stories (cue Lawrence of Arabia clips). Armed with a camera and a motorbike, he heads to North Africa for a transformative road trip.
At this stage, his mission seems almost deluded . . . charming, but deluded. He develops into a bit of an adrenaline junkie and spends his time capturing footage of him doing wheelies in the desert. But, as he gets further and further into his journey, his search for manhood becomes that much more important.
As the scenery grows increasingly sumptuous, Matt spends some time with US soldiers in Iraq filming them undergoing routine missions. His talking-head voiceover then mentions that the soldiers had been desperate to come across as the hard-as-nails military stereotypes so rife in Hollywood cinema.
Matt identifies the curious nature of this particular request – it was as if the squad where desperately trying to remind themselves that they were soldiers – and this is the moment when Matt’s journey moves from the fantasy world to reality.
He then meets Nuri, a delightful Libyan hippie trekking across Africa and the key transformative figure in this whole adventure. After heading back stateside, it’s his friendship with Nuri that draws him back to Libya when the Arab Springs revolution breaks out in the country. Once more unto the breach, indeed.
What follows is a deeply personal account of ‘the most filmed war in history’ and a beautifully poignant tale of the search for manhood. VanDyke and Marshall Curry (the writer/director/editor/producer) also take time to touch upon the ever-changing nature of war, the meaning of freedom and the clash between fantasy and reality. They delve deeper than any news station and focus their coverage on the civilians caught up in this conflict. It’s not about the politics or the international relations; it’s about the intimate and highly personal journeys of thousands of North Africans dreaming of a life free from autocracy and corruption. And, for Matt, it’s the most important thing he’ll ever do and the only way he’ll ever become a man.
At one point, Matt asks, ‘am I a filmmaker or a fighter?’; this is one of the rare occasions when he’s both.
This review was originally written for Close-Up Film and the film is out now on DVD and VOD, in the UK.