‘Dick Johnson Is Dead’ is Here to Warm and Break Your Heart

Published on September 15, 2020

Dick Johnson Is Dead confronts death head-on. In the documentary, filmmaker Kirsten Johnson depicts her father near the end of his life. While that sounds depressing and painful, the Netflix film is also a beautiful celebration of one’s life and the love between a father and daughter. The festival favorite, which has garnered rave reviews, is available on Netflix next month. 

The Trailer

Dick Johnson Is Dead — a wonderful title — follows the titular man after he’s diagnosed with dementia. As well as mourning the end, Johnson is celebrating the life of her father and best friend. Together, the two stage a series of death scenes in her documentary, most of which look hilarious. Based on the new trailer for the movie, Dick Johnson Is Dead will make us laugh as it breaks our hearts into a million little pieces. 

A Father-Daughter Story

As well as realistic look at losing a loved one, although Dick Johnson is still alive, the doc looks like a genuine love letter from a daughter to her father. There aren’t enough compelling father-daughter movies these days, so Johnson is providing us with a personal story that’s most likely cathartic for both her and audiences. Death has loomed larger than ever this year, due to COVID-19, so it’ll be fascinating to watch the doc and hear what it has to say. 

Johnson directed Cameraperson and worked on 2010’s The Oath, and one of the most important documentaries of the century, Citizenfour. Johnson’s name carries a lot of weight in the documentary world. Johnson rarely appears in the movie. She only appears when she needs to direct her father during the hilariously-looking staged death scenes.

From Executive Producer Megan Ellison

As if Dick Johnson Is Dead wasn’t already promising enough, it hails from executive producer Megan Ellison. She’s the head of Annapurna Picture. For the last nine years, Ellison has been financing and producing modern classics with Her, Zero Dark Thirty, 20th Century Women, Phantom Thread, and Spring Breakers. Ellison is a storyteller who backs the best of storytellers, the artist studios aren’t brave enough to back. 

Unfortunately, financial success isn’t common for Annapurna, but creative success, on the other hand, is a different story. Ellison is a true movie fan, the kind of movie maker who actually loves movies. Nobody produces the movies she makes to make money. The Sisters Brothers is a great movie, for example, that was bound for cult status and box-office failure. Ellison still made it. She lifts up voices we need in cinemas, including Johnson’s. Johnson’s movie isn’t heading to theaters since it’s a Netflix Original, but it’ll be available to stream and cry and laugh at on Netflix. 


A lifetime of making documentaries has convinced award-winning filmmaker Kirsten Johnson of the power of the real. But now she’s ready to use every escapist movie-making trick in the book – staging inventive and fantastical ways for her 86-year-old psychiatrist father to die while hoping that cinema might help her bend time, laugh at pain and keep her father alive forever. The darkly funny and wildly imaginative DICK JOHNSON IS DEAD is a love letter from a daughter to a father, creatively blending fact and fiction to create a celebratory exploration of how movies give us the tools to grapple with life’s profundity. DICK JOHNSON IS DEAD was filmed, produced and directed by Kirsten Johnson (Cameraperson), produced by Katy Chevigny and Marilyn Ness, co-produced by Maureen A. Ryan and executive produced by Megan Ellison.

Dick Johnson Is Dead is available on Netflix on October 2nd.

Jack Giroux is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in Los Angeles, he is an entertainment journalist who's previously written for Thrillist, Slash Film, Film School Rejects, and The Film Stage.

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