Matt Vandyke was raised as a mama’s boy in a pampered environment into his 20s, with his mom cooking his food and doing his laundry. He realized that he needed to find adventure (and his manhood) and journeys to Africa on his motorcycle to begin a 35000 mile journey that ended with Matt joining the fight against Muammar Gaddafi’s dictatorship of Libya as a revolutionary, warrior and POW in “Point and Shoot.”
On the surface one might say that “Point and Shoot” is the work of a narcissistic young man full of himself. The bulk of the documentary is footage shot from 2007 to 2011 by Vandyke during his long journey so the film’s focus centers on him. But, Vandyke’s collaboration with twice-Oscar nominated documentary filmmaker Marshall Curry creates a remarkable true life story of a young man’s literal and metaphorical coming of age.
Narcissistic as it may be, “Point and Shoot” is an insightful and informative view of time of the Arab Spring through the innocent (at first) eyes of Max Hunter, the warrior name Vandyke took on as he grew into a man. That change is nothing short of remarkable. The privileged young man put his old life behind him when he brings his Kawasaki KLR650 to North Africa. During his two year trek he traveled through Morocco, Mauritania, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Jordan and Syria. A year later he journeyed, with American photographer Daniel Britt, from Iraq through Iran and into Afghanistan, where Vandyke/Hunter embedded, briefly, with the US military as a war correspondent.
The topper of his incredible journey is when - through Libyan friends on Facebook whose friends and family have been arrested and disappeared - he makes the decision to join the fledgling revolutionary movement. This is the most significant part in Vandyke’s life as he “goes into battle with a gun in one hand and a camera in the other.” He paid the price for his ideals when he was captured by Gaddafi forces, torture and kept in solitary confinement for over 160 days before his escape from a Libyan prison.
This brief description should, I hope, make you want to see the incredible journey of Matt Vandyke, without and within. The whole of the “Point and Shoot” is greater than the sum of its parts and deserves attention. I give it a B.
In 2006, Matthew Vandyke was a 26 year-old spoiled 'only child of an only child of an only child' living in his mother's basement in Baltimore, his laundry done for him, his bills paid for him. Matthew didn't know what he wanted to do with his life until he saw Australian adventurer Alby Mangels on TV. Vandyke bought a motorcycle, geared up with knifes, a video camera and a helmet-cam and decided to 'take a crash course in manhood' by traveling from Morocco to Afghanistan where he renamed himself Max Hunter. A friendship with Libyan hippie Nuri evolved into becoming a rebel fighter against Gaddafi's regime as Vandyke continued to "Point and Shoot."
Writer/director Marshall Curry ("If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front") got a phone call from admirer Vandyke about turning his footage into a movie, but after he and producer/wife Elizabeth Martin spoke with the guy, Curry had another idea - take control of the footage and let his audience experience Vandyke as he just had. The resulting documentary opens all kinds of questions about how social media has made us our own brand managers, what constitutes manhood and, to a lesser degree, the role of the citizen journalist, but it also fails to raise a few (Who financed this jobless guy's travels and equipment? Why'd Vandyke, who'd intended to make his own movie, hand everything over to Curry?).
Curry opens his film with Vandyke's own introduction in front of photographer's paper, styling himself on Mangels and his own ideas of macho, before settling in to tell his story. Vandyke freely admits his cosseted upbringing, and, when asked a particularly probing question, excuses himself to wash his hands, leading to a discussion of his OCD. As Curry jumps between his interview, Vandyke's footage, and eventually news broadcasts, you may find your impression of his subject in flux. It's a great psychological portrait, even as we're always aware of image modeling.
He's admittedly naive when he starts off, learning about local customs from girlfriend Lauren back home. As he gets better control of his bike, he tells us he has to resist popping wheelies too often for his camera as to not look 'show-offy.' When he hits a couple of snags (a motorcycle accident in Morocco leaves him with a broken clavicle) it's Lauren's question as to why he's such a coward that spurs him on. Soon he's in Iraq with a group of American soldiers, like him, anxious to look like fearless heroes.
Things go into high gear when Vandyke meets Nuri, the Libyan he describes as 'like a saint,' a man of great kindness. After bribing his way into Libya, Nuri's friends accept him into a group he says offer the strongest friendships of his life. When, back home, he learns that friends of his friends are being slaughtered on the streets, he immediately packs up to return, much to the consternation of his mother and Lauren. Leaving Nuri behind in Tripoli, Vandyke travels with Ali and friends towards the hot spot that is the oil town of Brega, but they're ambushed. Vandyke is thrown into solitary where his OCD is challenged and causes him to hallucinate himself as the subject of international news. (His camera was seized, providing evidence against all those with him, but he had a backup available. Animator Joe Posner artfully represents Vandyke's jailed experiences.) Five and a half months later, he's freed by rebels but instead of returning home, stays on to fight the revolutionary cause. Ali is later found in a mass grave.
Vandyke says he struggled with his role - was he a filmmaker or a fighter? He says he even came to resent the camera as Curry shows footage of the man shooting a huge automatic weapon from a truck bed. 'Everyone wanted to be seen with the big gun,' he tells us, 'something to share on Facebook.' His direction of his own camera as he lines up his site to take out one of Gaddafi's soldiers is a chilling moment, one he later speaks of with much regret, but how can we be sure what we're hearing isn't image readjustment? Faced with his own behavior, Vandyke may be editing his own narration. We never do hear him apologize for finding Lauren's everyday concerns insignificant in light of his grand adventure. When he sees himself interviewed on the news after Gaddafi's brought down (another instance of social media bravado by those involved) he believes 'the world could see I was where I belonged.' But when Curry asks him if his 'crash course into manhood' was successful, he cannot answer.
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