Imagine staging an elegy for your parent, except they’re still alive. That’s the premise behind “Cameraperson” director Kirsten Johnson’s “Dick Johnson Is Dead,” one of the most beloved documentaries from this year’s (however limited) festival circuit. The film was the winner of the Special Jury Award for Innovation in Nonfiction Storytelling at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, and an official selection of the True/False Film Festival. The movie arrives on Netflix October 2 and ahead of its release, exclusive to IndieWire, check out the first trailer and poster for the film below.
Here’s the official synopsis: “A lifetime of making documentaries has convinced award-winning filmmaker Kirsten Johnson of the power of the real. But now she’s ready to use every escapist movie-making trick in the book — staging inventive and fantastical ways for her 86-year-old psychiatrist father to die while hoping that cinema might help her bend time, laugh at pain and keep her father alive forever. The darkly funny and wildly imaginative ‘Dick Johnson Is Dead’ is a love letter from a daughter to a father, creatively blending fact and fiction to create a celebratory exploration of how movies give us the tools to grapple with life’s profundity.”
In his rave review out of Park City, IndieWire’s Eric Kohn wrote, “That concept could easily devolve into a navel-gazing exercise, but Kirsten Johnson — the veteran nonfiction cinematographer who directed 2016’s wondrous collage film ‘Cameraperson’ — enacts a touching and funny meditation on embracing life and fearing death at the same time. Oscillating from intimate father-daughter exchanges to surreal meta-fictional tangents, the movie lives within its riveting paradox, reflecting the queasy uncertainty surrounding its subject’s fate.”
The filmmaker appears to credit her father with the original idea for the movie. In the opening moments, an air conditioner falls on Dick’s head. He falls down a staircase in the next scene, and so on. All the while, Johnson plays out the behind-the-scenes process that went into staging these scenes, with the stuntmen and below-the-line artists made visible.
“Dick Johnson Is Dead” was filmed, produced, and directed by Kirsten Johnson, produced by Katy Chevigny and Marilyn Ness, co-produced by Maureen A. Ryan, and executive-produced by Megan Ellison.