Kirsten Johnson’s film Dick Johnson is Dead isn’t dissimilar from Mucho Mucho Amor, which premiered at the True/False film festival just the night before Johnon’s film had its T/F opening, in the same exact venue. Where Mucho Mucho Amor is a more unexpected tale of closure at the end of a life, however, Dick Johnson is Dead is about preparing for a very expected end–the eventual death of Johnson’s father, the eponymous Dick Johnson, from Alzheimer’s Disease.
Kirsten Johnson (who also directed the masterful Cameraperson) and her father conspire on an artistic experiment meant to take some of the sting out of Dick’s expected passing. Johnson creates a series of short scenes in which Dick is killed, shockingly and accidentally. He falls down a set of stairs. He’s crushed by an air conditioner, and killed in a car accident. Johnson even buys him a small coffin to test out which, hilariously, cost exactly $666. She also films a few scenes that are her approximation of heaven, in which Dick is reunited with his wife, Johnson’s mother, and enjoys copious amounts of chocolate cake.
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It’s easy to look at a Sundance lineup with rose-colored glasses and think that there’s going to be some major breakout hits. We do it every year because, after all, hope springs eternal! 2020’s edition looks like the rare slate to premiere in Park City that will truly earn all of the pre-festival drooling.
A glance at the directors unveiling their new films at the first Sundance of the new decade looks like a veritable “who’s who” of filmmakers who were just on the cusp of breakthrough in the 2010s: Eliza Hittman, Josephine Decker, Janicza Bravo, and countless others. It’s also a welcome return for many directors who have been dormant for far too long: Miranda July, Julie Taymor, Benh Zeitlin. Many other names that, unfortunately, barely register upon scanning the lineup may leave Utah with a million-dollar distribution deal for their film and a star on the rise.
But none of them came from nowhere. Even if their feature directing debut nabbed a spot in the Sundance lineup, they all have some prior work that portends – or at least contextualizes – their ascendancy. If you’re not attending the festival, here’s how you can get in on the ground floor of some of these directors on the rise without even leaving the comfort of your home cinema.
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