Director Kirsten Johnson On “Killing” Her Father In ‘Dick Johnson Is Dead’ – Contenders Documentary

Dick Johnson Is Dead director Kirsten Johnson has become all too familiar with the devastating impact of dementia. In 2007, her mother died of Alzheimer’s.

“Dementia will rip your heart out,” she says at Deadline’s Contenders Documentary awards-season event, “and you could just cry for decades if you didn’t find a way to laugh at it.”

When her father, too, began to exhibit signs of dementia, Johnson resolved to process the possibility of losing him with paradoxical humor, the lightest of touches in a grave situation. The result became her award-winning documentary for Netflix in which she—improbably—films imagined scenarios in which her dad meets his end.

“The premise of the movie is that we were going to kill my father over and over again with the help of stunt people until he really died for real,” Johnson says. “Why? Why? Because we wanted to keep bringing him back to life.”

The film’s tone is whimsical, yet Johnson said it confronts elemental issues.

“What’s the legacy of my life? What’s the meaning, how will I be remembered, who will remember me?” Johnson says. “We’re all sort of grappling with those questions on the most profound level.”

Putting Dick Johnson on film, the director realizes, means in a sense her father will live forever.

“I do think of cinema as time travel, as a time machine,” Johnson says, “and as an immortality device.”

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