GOD KNOWS WHERE I AM: 5 Questions for the Wider Brothers
GOD KNOWS WHERE I AM screens daily at the Bertha DocHouse from Friday 14th April. When the body of Linda Bishop was found in an abandoned farmhouse, the only clue left behind was her diary. God Knows Where I Am intimately and artfully reconstructs Linda’s final months as she became a prisoner in her own mind. It is a poignant account of the grip of mental illness and a deeply troubling reflection on the system's failure to protect the most vulnerable. Watch the trailer and book your tickets: HERE
The film is the directorial debut from Todd and Jedd Wider, who have produced numerous critically acclaimed documentaries over the past 16 years, including the 2008 Academy Award Winner for Best Documentary Taxi to the Dark Side directed by Alex Gibney. Ahead of the release of God Knows Where I Am, which won the Special Jury Prize at last year's Hot Docs, we put five questions to the directors.
How did you first find out about the story of Linda Bishop and why did you want to make a film recounting her final months?
We first learned of the story through an article we read in the New Yorker by Rachel Aviv. The original inspiration for the film was an experience that Todd had when he returned to his home one cold February night and found that a homeless man had broken into his foyer. He was simply cold and was looking to get warm. After the police came, Todd asked them to take the man to a homeless shelter and then watched as the police car stopped at a stop light and the man bound out of the back of the car into the darkness of night. A few months later in the Spring, Todd walked out of his building and there was the same man sitting on a plastic chair a few yards away. He sat there for what seemed like seven days and seven nights, muttering and delusional, psychotic and covered in urine. Todd began calling the police and then watched as they briefly spoke to the man and left him there. Finally after Todd had called many times they sent a community rep to speak to Todd. She asked why he was calling and he told her he wanted them to take the man to a hospital or to someone who could provide medication and help. She responded that they couldn't pick up every homeless person in New York and that it wasn't a law enforcement problem. If he wanted to change this, change society. That was when we both decided to examine this issue through film.
The film really gives voices to Linda’s experience through her diaries, can you talk about your approach to this process?
When we began working on God Knows Where I Am, we had a challenge of how to bring to life the words of a person who was no longer alive. In a sense, she was an absent protagonist. However, we did have her words, as written in her journals. These words speak to her state of mind, which was not a stable thing, and also offer tremendous insight into what she was thinking, experiencing, seeing and dreaming about. At first we tried to reproduce the actual text on the screen, but this proved too distracting and wasn't moving enough. We then tried a dry read, first with non-actors and then actors, but none of these were dynamic enough for us. Finally we turned to the actress Lori Singer (Short Cuts, Footloose), whom we had worked with before. Lori, an accomplished actress, delivers an inspired, mesmerizing read of the diary. Her voice becomes the key guide taking you on Linda's tragic journey.
Linda ultimately proves to be an unreliable narrator which adds to the mystery of the film. How did you construct the narrative to represent the multi-layered perspectives on the events?
The film is constructed in two distinct temporal arcs, and these arcs meet at the end forming in a sense, "an ellipses." The first arc is the arc of Linda Bishop's diaries, delivered in her own words as read by Lori Singer. This arc begins when she finds the farmhouse. The second arc is constructed of the secondary characters and begins with the discovery of Linda's body in a way that echoes films like Rashomon. The arcs unfold as we learn more about what happened to Linda, and as we experience the disintegration of Linda's rational mind. On the occasion when the two arcs touch, this proves to be particularly chilling and there is a heightened sense of drama. We created this structure with our superb editor, Keiko Deguchi, who was a key member of our filmmaking team.
The visual style of the film is stunning, how did you develop such a haunting aesthetic?
In our opinion, when one tries to make art there should be an attempt to explore the relationship between content and form. At this moment in documentary filmmaking, there seems to be often an emphasis on content but sometimes at the expense of form. In this story, which is the story of a severely mentally ill homeless woman who was also quite artistic and made extremely visual references to her surroundings and to her dreams in her diaries, it was important to underline the aesthetic nature of our cinematic storytelling. This is one of the reasons we decided to shoot God Knows Where I Am in film - 35mm, super 16mm and 16mm. The film also contains numerous references to film history, art history, as well as religious iconography for thematic reasons. The pallet and feel of the film was inspired by such painters as Hammershoi and Wyeth, and filmmakers such as Malick and Tarkovsky. We were privileged to work with our cinematographer Gerardo Puglia, an experienced artist who had creative friendships with such masters as Vittorio Storaro, Haskell Wexler, and Roger Deakins, and brought a wealth of experience and creativity to the project.
Through Linda’s tragic story, the film does address larger issues around mental health care and modern isolation. What would you like audiences to take away from the film?
There is really one word to answer that question, and the word is "empathy." We believe you cannot affect real change in society without empathy. Too many times we become conditioned to walking over the homeless and mentally ill on our way to work or turning our heads away disinterested. These people are people just like us however - they have mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. They have dreams and hopes. We need to care for these people and be more conscious of their plights. We all need to do better as a society. We want this film to shed a light on the tragic story of Linda Bishop and the thousands of other Linda Bishops around the world that we each encounter every day.
Join us for daily screenings from Friday 14th April. Times and tickets: HERE