Death Becomes Them: Kirsten Johnson on Her Bold New Doc ‘Dick Johnson is Dead’

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The filmmaker opens up about her upcoming documentary, her father and much more…

Known for some of her brilliant documentaries such as The Oath and Citizenfour, Kirsten Johnson is soon coming out with her next. Her upcoming documentary film is titled Dick Johnson is Dead and is an ode to her father and the bond that they share.

The filmmaker will also be indulging in topics such as human morality, impending death and sickness with a fun, dark humorous twist. Starring in the documentary film will be Kirsten herself along with her father, Richard “Dick” Johnson who suffers from dementia.

On how Johnson came up with the idea of the documentary:

The 55-year-old reveals that they first learnt of her father’s illness in December 2016. However, in September of the same year, she dreamt of a man who looked a lot like her father in a casket, sitting up and saying, “I’m Dick Johnson and I’m not dead yet.”

 

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💛 From #DickJohnsonIsDead director #KirstenJohnson 💛 @netflixfilm @netflix @netflixqueue @marilyn.ness.9 @mightychevs

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On wanting to document her father:

Johnson shared that when her mother passed away due to Alzheimer’s in 2007, they barely had any footage or pictures of her. The only time she did come across footage of her mother was that of her ashes in the box to her walking around outside, which made Johnson want to not repeat the same mistake twice. She exclaimed wanting to document it while she could.

On “killing” her father onscreen:

Whereas, the idea of “killing” her father, again and again, was Richard Johnson’s. She spoke fondly of her father’s “dark, absurd sense of humour” and the ability to walk between “sacred and profane”.

Recalling an instance, Johnson shared how one day the duo were watching The Simpsons when her father received a call from a friend who was attempting to commit suicide. Her father comforted the person and as soon as the call finished, he went right back to watching the animated series as if nothing happened. 

Johnson pinpointed this absurdity of life calling it “the art of the tonal shift”. It was this absurdity that allowed the filmmaker to go back and forth between reality and the dream and creating an amalgamation of both.

 

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Cowabunga, dude! We’re part of Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival slate of films. https://bit.ly/3afBByy

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On her father’s reel funeral:

Johnson affirmed that this time around she wanted to control the narrative. The church that holds her father’s funeral is the same church that held her mother’s but that time around, she wasn’t ready to come to terms with reality. 

This time around, Johnson held a funeral with her father still being alive, so his loved ones could properly tell him their goodbyes whilst also eat chocolate cake. Thus, she reclaimed the space. 

On filming with her father:

The Academy Award winner and cinematographer revealed that it was very easy to convince her father to do the documentary film.

However, it was the filming which was difficult since he is also battling dementia and could pose threat to himself or the people around him. She also addressed the ethical shortcomings of filming with a man with dementia and owned up her faults. 

 

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We’re alive with gratitude to everyone who helped make last night’s #sundance premiere so special!

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The documentary released on Netflix on October 2, 2020, and is available to stream. You can watch the trailer of the documentary below:

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