Watch Talk-Back: Dick Johnson Is Dead

Written by: The Exchange

As her father nears the end of his life, renowned documentary filmmaker Kirsten Johnson used the language of her craft to help them both find closure in the inevitable. This inventive, heartbreaking, often comical exploration of dementia is deeply human and truly original. The use of special effects allows the film to serve as a kind of data visualization of dementia, playing with and even distorting expressions of time as a way to provide the insight into our understanding the disease’s progressions. Dick Johnson Is Dead premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Special Jury Award for Innovation in Non-fiction Storytelling. It was released on Netflix on October 2, 2020, and has been critically lauded as a “daring masterpiece.”

Join us for a talk-back with filmmaker Kirsten Johnson, quantum physicist Spiros Michalakis, and geologist Kirk Johnson – who is also Kirsten’s brother. All three have very different ways of thinking about time, and yet each dedicated themselves to a field in which time is an essential aspect

Dick Johnson Is Dead is available to watch on Netflix. We know that not everyone has a Netflix account. But do not let that stop you from attending the event. Even the trailer will give you enough to enjoy the conversation, which will be great! Truly. Come for the science. We promise it will be entertaining.
Kirk Johnson is the Sant Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History where he oversees the world’s largest natural history collection. As a geologist and paleobotanist, he has excavated and studied fossils from latitude 62°S to 82°N. In 2020, he hosted a two-hour PBS-NOVA special entitled Polar Extremes that investigated the changing climate of the polar regions through the lens of deep time.

Kirsten Johnson’s Dick Johnson Is Dead premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and won the Jury Prize for Innovation in Nonfiction Storytelling. It has been included on dozens of top films of 2020 lists and is on the Oscar shortlist. Her previous film, Cameraperson, named one of New York Times’ “Top Ten Films of 2016” was also shortlisted for the Academy Award. She is one of the only 4% of women members of American Society of Cinematographers.

Spiros Michalakis is a mathematical physicist and manager of outreach at Caltech’s Institute for Quantum Information and Matter. His research focuses on the emergence of space, time and the laws of physics within the context of quantum field theory. He is credited with solving the first of 13 “millennium” problems in mathematical physics. His consulting work with The Science & Entertainment Exchange led to the introduction of the “quantum realm” in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He lives in Los Angeles with his better half and their avocado plants.

The statements and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the event participants and do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for this event or of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.