Film Reviews

Report on Sundance Docs: Part 2 - ‘Dick Johnson Is Dead’

Our latest documentary dispatch from Park City

Next up in our report from Sundance, a look at the latest triumph from Cameraperson director Kirsten Johnson!

Dick Johnson Is Dead
Photo by John Wakayama Carey, courtesy of the Sundance Institute

Dick Johnson is Dead

(dir. Kirsten Johnson, U.S. Documentary Competition)

Kirsten Johnson returns to Sundance with a celebration of the absurdity of life and death. While her latest film could easily be merely a morose and insular look at a parent struggling with Alzheimer’s disease, Dick Johnson Is Dead instead reveals itself as a kind of living wake. Alternatively gruesome and comedic, Johnson invites us to witness potential endings to her father. These events appear as a mix of operatic and macabre vignettes that are interspersed with deeply intimate moments captured with the grace and acuity we’ve come to expect from a talent like Johnson.

There is real tragedy as Dick’s mind slowly wastes away, and more than a few moments worthy of tears. Yet what’s most remarkable is how Johnson manages to take this deeply personal story and never have it devolve into insularity or moroseness. We see in Johnson and her father far more universal truths, which provide a deep and existential rumination upon end-of-life matters with an underlying joy and infectious sense of play. Unabashedly toying with the conventions of obituary, the documentation of the infirm, and the memorialization of a parent, the end result is a triumph. Dick Johnson Is Dead is fitting as a tribute both to the subject of the film and the truly remarkable filmmaker at the helm of this terrific documentary.

Visit the POV Sundance Hub for more coverage from this year’s Sundance Film Festival

Update: Dick Johnson Is Dead streams on Netflix beginning Oct. 2.