2020 Sundance Docs in Focus: DICK JOHNSON IS DEAD

DICK JOHNSON IS DEAD | Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by John Wakayama Carey

Kirsten Johnson approaches her father’s mortality with inventiveness and dark humor.

Festival Section:
US Documentary Competition

Sundance Program Description:

What if you could make your loved ones live forever? DICK JOHNSON IS DEAD is Kirsten Johnson’s delirious and desperate attempt to keep her aging father alive. In this effort she turns to the magic of cinema to kill him, resurrect him, and celebrate his last years on earth.

Toggling between observational documentary and fictional fantasy, longtime cinematographer Kirsten Johnson peels back layers of moviemaking as she and her father share a quest to face his death together. Their challenge is heightened by the erosive effect of dementia, which menaces Dick Johnson (both the person and the movie), but will not deter their commitment to explore the unlikely ways in which we might love and know each other all the way to the end.

Exuberantly creative, joyous, funny, and heartbreaking, DICK JOHNSON IS DEAD is a cinematic ode to one very lovely man from his ridiculously talented daughter – and a beguiling gift to all of us lucky enough to see it.

Some Background:


  • Kirsten Johnson
    Past Sundance docs:

    DEADLINE (2004)

    The Oscar shortlisted and Emmy-nominated Johnson is a renowned director of photography, a role she also serves for this project, and for which she won the Sundance US Documentary Cinematography Award for THE OATH (2010).


  • Katy Chevigny
    Past Sundance docs:

    DARK MONEY (2018)
    TRAPPED (2016)
    E-TEAM (2014)

    Chevigny is an Emmy-winning filmmaker and co-founder of Big Mouth Productions.

  • Marilyn Ness
    Past Sundance docs:


    Big Mouth’s Ness is also an Emmy winner and is best-known for her Oscar shortlisted feature doc, CHARM CITY.


  • Maureen A Ryan
    Past Sundance docs:

    PROJECT NIM (2011)
    MAN ON WIRE (2008)

    The Emmy-nominated Ryan also executive produced the Sundance New Frontier installation FRANKENSTEIN AI: A MONSTER MADE BY MANY (2018). She is the chair and director of production of Columbia University’s Graduate Film program.

Associate Producer:

  • Simon Mendes

    This is the first Sundance credit for Big Mouth’s Mendes.

Executive Producer:

  • Megan Ellison
    Past Sundance docs:

    CLICK EFFECT (2016, VR short)

    Ellison is a multiple Oscar-nominated producer and the founder of Annapurna Pictures. She also executive produced fellow 2020 Sundance title KAJILLIONAIRE, in the Premieres section, as well as Sundance fiction feature alumni WOUNDS and WIENER-DOG and alumni VR shorts EVOLUTION OF VERSE, CHORUS, and LIFE OF US.


  • Nels Bangerter
    Past Sundance docs:

    PROJECT X (2017, short)

Why You Should Watch:
Johnson excels in taking the personal and making it instantly relatable. When faced with topics like dementia and aging, which might lead others to take a more somber approach, she instead injects a healthy dose of whimsy and fantasy, tinged with welcome black humor, to craft an indelible portrait of her father as he goes through a major transition.

More Info:

For Sundance screening dates and times, click the film title in the first paragraph.


Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

2 responses to “2020 Sundance Docs in Focus: DICK JOHNSON IS DEAD

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