A critique of Point and Shoot, a documentary film by rebel filmmaker Matthew VanDyke
By Jeremy Griffith
The American Millennium Online
Recently I watched a war documentary filmed over five years by Matthew VanDyke. I’m a sucker for war films, but this one was way different that anything I’ve seen before, and definitely worth watching. You can find it now on Netflix.
The famous author Mark Twain is quoted as saying that the way to learn about a writer is to read his books. I think the same is true of the filmmaker. And so, even though I’ve never met Matt, I feel like I know him after watching this film. Here is a geeky guy from Baltimore, painfully awkward, looking for a “manly adventure”.
Most of us would join the military or something and go on deployment, but apparently for this guy, that never crossed his mind. I can see why. The guy is so tall and lanky, and painfully awkward as I said, the MEPS doctor would take one look at him and disqualify him as “unable to adapt to military life”, perhaps find a medical reason for doing so. One glaringly obvious reason to disqualify would be his OCD against bugs, germs, closed in spaces and other phobias that would be prohibitive for the life of a Soldier. And so, there is probably good reason this young man never darkens the door of a recruiter.
Instead he gets his Masters degree in Middle Eastern Studies or something and flies off to Africa with his Kawasaki bike and tours the country side for several years, filming himself as he goes. It’s kind of a Che Guevara type of motorcycle adventure, without the homicidal mania and the talk about communism. If that was the sum total of his adventure it would still be worth watching.
But the contacts and friendship Matt makes in Kaddafi’s Libya is preamble for the chapters that follow. Matt comes home to his girlfriend, wife? He never explains that part, and then the war in Libya happens and he’s drawn back to a war zone, this time to fight and not to document. In Iraq he embedded for a Baltimore paper to cover the war there from a Soldier’s perspective. They taught him how to load and shoot the various weapon systems. When he got to Libya, his experience handling weapons made him the SME, the subject matter expert, which is a frightening prospect.
In the midst of fighting that war he is captured in an ambush and spends a painful 5 months recuperating in solitary confinement in a Libyan prison. He goes a little nuts in prison, as one can well imagine and has visions about how the secretary of state Hillary Clinton comes to his aid and frees him. Of course he realizes after the fact that none of this is true. His release is secured because other prisoners riot and break out of the prison, and just happened to open the door of his cage on their way out the door. Matt is returned to the war and to his friends. He comes to realize that not all of his friends made it, having been killed in the ambush that landed him in prison.
Towards the end of the film, Matt describes how he participates in the final fall of the Kaddafi regime, fighting in a major battle. He’s not actually sure if he’s killed anyone, the enemy is always too far away and too impersonal. When he gets up close and personal with one sniper he fires, and misses his target. Then the end of the war arrives and Kaddafi is killed. Matt can take leave of his friends and go home.
Before the film wraps up, Matt meets up with his old Libyan friend Nuri. They go to the beach and go for a swim. It’s picturesque, very different from the conflict in the scenes before. Peaceful. There is nothing martial about Matt and his friends at all, they are all just peaceful people caught up in an ugly war for liberty. The videography is great and story is moving. I highly recommend it. Two thumbs up.
I’ve seen a few war documentaries in the past and I’ve enjoyed them. But this one is quite different. In this one, an awkward American turns from filmmaker to fighter in less than five years. If you met him on the street, you wouldn’t make him for a combat veteran, not like the ones I’ve seen. But in some ways he’s braver than many combat veterans I know. Courage is when you go outside your comfort zone and do the right thing even though it’s difficult. People who gravitate to the military and go on deployment are brave sure, but they’re built for that sort of thing. It’s not all that far out of their comfort zone. Matt is a fish out of water and yet he adapts. You won’t see him in a Navy SEAL bar acting all cavalier. He looks like a geek from Baltimore, a little more mature than when he left.
In some ways I admire this young man more than others who went with regular Army units to fight. When I went to Iraq, I was surrounded with the best trained, best equipped fighting force in the world. I felt pretty safe, having done some of that best of training myself at the home of the Infantry, Fort Benning Georgia. Matt and his friends had nothing; they were three men in a truck. That is a special kind of courage/slash foolishness, sometimes the distinction is too thin to really be sure.
“Matt and his friends had nothing; they were three men in a truck. That is a special kind of courage/slash foolishness, sometimes the distinction is too thin to really be sure.”
In a way I feel smallish following watching this film. I had all the best training in the world and in my retirement I watch angrily as ISIS takes over the greater Middle East, and Iraq where I was stationed for over 15 months. I could train, I could teach, I could mentor, and yet, here I am. I found myself yelling at the screen telling Matt and his friends, maneuver, don’t sit still, flank, find cover, return fire, go! But Matt and his friends didn’t have the training I had, just the availability. As the tragedy of the Christian and Yazidi genocide continues in the Middle East I wonder if more young men of little or no training will take up arms and join the “manly adventure” to liberate oppressed peoples. Maybe those few men and their truck will be more valuable than all the elite brigades the American Military has ever fielded?!