Dick Johnson Is Dead | Courtesy of Sundance

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

Johnson outdoes herself with a personal and playful look at life and death

2 mins read

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

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.



Jason Gorber is a film journalist and member of the Toronto Film Critics Association. He is the Managing Editor/Chief Critic at ThatShelf.com and a regular contributor for POV Magazine, RogerEbert.com and CBC Radio. His has written for Slashfilm, Esquire, The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Screen Anarchy, HighDefDigest, Birth.Movies.Death, IndieWire and more. He has appeared on CTV NewsChannel, CP24, and many other broadcasters. He has been a jury member at the Reykjavik International Film Festival, Calgary Underground Film Festival, RiverRun Film Festival, TIFF Canada's Top 10, Reel Asian and Fantasia's New Flesh Award. Jason has been a Tomatometer-approved critic for over 20 years.

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