God Knows Where I Am

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God Knows Where I Am is a 2017 American documentary film directed by Todd Wider and Jedd Wider, and produced by Brian Ariotti, Lori Singer, Joseph Edelman, Todd Wider and Jedd Wider.[1][2][3]

The film premiered to critical acclaim, and screened in cities and film festivals all over the world, winning numerous awards, including the Special Jury Prize for International Feature at Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival.[4]

The documentary premiered on PBS stations in USA, on October 15, 2018.[5]

Synopsis[edit]

In a vacant New Hampshire farmhouse, a homeless woman's body is found. A diary lies near the body which contains notes of starvation and mental illness. However, this diary also contains beauty, humor, and other positive things along with a spiritual touch. Linda Bishop had been a prisoner of her own mind for about four months, and while waiting for God to save her, she was surviving on apples and rain water, all in the midst of one of the coldest winters on record.[6] The unfolding saga of her story is told from her own perspective, and the perspective of others, describing our systemic failure to protect the homeless and mentally ill.

Production[edit]

Shooting in Film: Using Historical Cameras[edit]

The depiction of Linda Bishop’s conscious state was shot in film, using 35mm, 16mm, and Super 16mm for different reasons. The filmmakers employed a variety of cameras, including a 1939 Bell & Howell Eyemo (a camera used in WWII war photography) and a 1980s Aaton XTR Prod, each for thematic reasons to underline notions of dreamscapes, personal nostalgia and commercial memory. The filmmakers tried to elevate the visual quality of the film as a way to honor Linda, who was an extremely insightful and visual person.[7]

Shooting in Film: Super 16MM[edit]

Linda Bishop hid in an attic in the farmhouse, trying to avoid being seen by neighbors, where she found magazines from the 1970s, many of which depicted advertisements for food. Those ads had a certain patina and do not feel like ads from today. The filmmakers tried to echo the nostalgia of the ads and turned to capturing the numerous recipes and food segments in the diary Linda wrote about, shooting those scenes in Super 16mm. When Linda writes about how hungry she is while she is starving and how she is dreaming of a Thanksgiving dinner, the filmmakers wanted to present the imagery of food in both an enticing and dreamy way. They wanted the audience to feel hunger but also feel they were seeing a dream. Many of the food shots were shot in Super 16mm with an Aaton XTR to capture a sense of nostalgia, but also a sense of unease as further enhanced by the graininess of the film. These were images that represented, to a certain extent, a distorted reality of a mentally ill woman yearning for and imagining food, but yearning for food as she imagined it from food commercials she had seen years before when she was more lucid.

Shooting in Film: 35MM[edit]

When depicting what Linda Bishop may have seen looking outside the window of the farmhouse over the four month period she was there, or within the room that she died, the filmmakers did not want to use a medium that felt too immediate or hypertransient, so they chose 35mm film, which requires patience and deliberation to compose shots. While in the farmhouse, in a metaphoric sense, Linda lived in a world of film, a world not completely rooted in modernity. There was no electricity or heat, and she spent her time writing in a diary, collecting apples and dreaming, not surfing on the internet. 35mm film image also has an extremely beautiful quality to it, and much of what Linda was looking at outside including rolling fields, a historic barn, lilac branches, a rambling brook, deer and birds, etc. was extremely beautiful. The 1939 Eyemo was used to help map the internal landscapes of the house as well as evoke a sense of memory. One of their Eyemos was also spring-wound which gave the images a sense of uneasiness in its inconsistent exposure uniformity and flicker quality.

Shooting in Film: 16MM[edit]

When Linda Bishop was released from the state psychiatric hospital, she wandered through various paths in the forest feeling a sense of freedom until she arrived ultimately at the farmhouse. The filmmakers shot these scenes with a 16mm 1966 Bolex and a 16mm 1972 Canon Scoopic. 16mm was ideal to capture the vigor and agitation of her journey from the hospital which was helped by the grain of the film. The filmmakers wanted to free these shoots from any sense of formalism and they openly embraced the streaks of light, soft grainy over-exposed images and lens flares that naturally came with shooting in 16mm. They freed the camera without even looking through the viewfinder. In these 16mm scenes, the viewer does not merely see but actually experiences the act of Linda walking vigorously from the hospital, away out of town and through the forest towards the farmhouse.

Shooting in Digital Video[edit]

The filmmakers conducted many of the interviews in the actual farmhouse where Linda Bishop lived and ultimately died. These interviews were shot in digital video with a Canon C300 to capture the truth of those who came to know Linda over the years and to create a feel of those interviewees being truly present or immediate. They used an Arriflex Alexa in most of the nature shots in the film. Linda lived through one of the worst winters in New Hampshire history. The fall and winter months play a prominent role in the film as Linda struggles through a frozen landscape to attempt to survive longer as she runs out of apples and water. Her desperation in running out of food is mirrored in the desolation of the physical surroundings around her. As she slowly approaches death so does the farmhouse and nature under the weight of winter. The Alexa was stunningly effective in helping us to search for nature’s soul in the sun, clouds, snowstorms, icicles hanging from the farmhouse windows and frozen hills throughout this desperate New Hampshire winter. The filmmakers used the Alexa for the eye-of-God shots.

The Technocrane[edit]

The filmmakers used a Technocrane with a 60-foot telescopic arm and remote-controlled camera on God Knows Where I Am as well. The extending arm allowed really smooth moves, which helped them evoke both the meditations of a solitary soul and the eye of God moving through the interiors of the farmhouse and landscape with a great sense of precision and composition. Near the end of the film, there is a beam of light in Linda’s last room, which reminds viewers of the “camera obscura” effect when images of memory are pushed or even forced through a tear in the curtain. In addition, the death scene at the end of the film was shot with a Lensbaby. The lens was actually attached to a piece of accordion-like rubber giving the impression of losing consciousness just by moving the optics in and out between one’s fingers.[8]

Performance

An early challenge for the filmmakers was how to present Linda’s story in her own words. While they had no protagonist to interview, they did have Linda’s words, in the form of her diary. Linda’s diary was brought vividly to life by actress Lori Singer. Singer spent considerable time with the real diary, even studying how the pen was imprinted onto the actual paper for clues as to what Linda might have been experiencing. Singer created an entire character arc for Linda. The performance helps the viewer enter into the mind of Linda and feel for her, and she serves as the key guide, taking you on what becomes a tragic journey.[9]

Singer's performance has been praised by critics across the board. Greg Klymkiw of The Film Corner praised, "Singer's performance here is astonishing - she captures the pain, desperation and even small joys in Bishop's life during these sad, lonely days with a sensitivity and grace linked wholly to the "character" of Bishop.""[10] Andrew Parker of Toronto Film Scene said, "The actress steps inside Bishop so completely that it’s impossible not to sit in stunned silence listening to every word of the journals as they’re delivered."[11] Jessica Kiang of Variety wrote, “A chilling exploration-The diaries are not just read but vocally embodied by Lori Singer in a vivid voiceover performance.”[12]

Release[edit]

The film premiered on April 30, 2016 at the 2016 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival.[13] It later opened theatrically in the Spring of 2017 and played in multiple markets around the world.[14] PBS stations will broadcast God Knows Where I Am nationwide on October 15, 2018.

Reception and awards[edit]

The film received positive feedback from critics. Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 84% based on reviews from 25 critics.[15] Christopher Orr of The Atlantic called the film "beautiful, evocative, and ultimately heartbreaking."[16] Andy Webster of The New York Times named God Knows Where I Am a "New York Times Critic's Pick."[17] Amy Ellis Nutt of The Washington Post praised the film as "remarkably moving."[18] John DeFore of The Hollywood Reporter said the film was "haunting and uncommonly artful."[19]

In 2016, God Knows Where I Am won the Special Jury Prize for International Feature at Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. Napa Valley Film Festival awarded the film with the Special Jury Award for Innovative Treatment of a Social Issue in a Documentary Feature.[20] At the Salem Film Fest, God Knows Where I Am won the award for Best Cinematography from American Cinematographer.[21] The film was also named Best Documentary Feature at the Maryland International Film Festival, New Hampshire Film Festival,[22] and American Documentary Film Festival.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Nina Metz (3 May 2017). "'God Knows' tries to bring meaning to Linda Bishop's mysterious death in a vacant farmhouse". chicagotribune.com. Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on 2018-10-16. Retrieved 2018-10-21.
  2. ^ Wendy Ide (16 April 2017). "God Knows Where I Am review – haunting documentary". theguardian.com. The Guardian. Archived from the original on 2017-11-29. Retrieved 2018-10-21.
  3. ^ Jessica Kiang (31 March 2017). "Film Review: 'God Knows Where I Am'". variety.com. Variety. Archived from the original on 2017-11-29. Retrieved 2018-10-21.
  4. ^ "Hot Docs: Norway's 'Brothers' Doc Diary Takes Top Jury Prize". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on 2016-07-09. Retrieved 2018-10-01.
  5. ^ Busch, Anita (2018-08-27). "PBS Sets Premiere Date For Feature Documentary 'God Knows Where I Am' – Update". Deadline. Archived from the original on 2018-08-28. Retrieved 2018-10-01.
  6. ^ "Denying a Diagnosis". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on 2018-10-15. Retrieved 2018-10-01.
  7. ^ Wider, Todd Wider,Jedd; Wider, Todd Wider, Jedd (2016-04-08). "'God Knows Where I Am': Why The Documentary Shot on Film To Capture The Subject's Mental Illness". IndieWire. Retrieved 2018-12-11.
  8. ^ Wider, Todd Wider,Jedd; Wider, Todd Wider, Jedd (2016-04-08). "'God Knows Where I Am': Why The Documentary Shot on Film To Capture The Subject's Mental Illness". IndieWire. Retrieved 2018-12-11.
  9. ^ "Mixed Media: How Documentary God Knows Where I Am Used 35mm, 16mm, Super-16 and Digital For Its Haunting Story". MovieMaker Magazine. 2017-03-29. Retrieved 2018-12-28.
  10. ^ Klymkiw, Greg (2016-04-25). "The Film Corner with Greg Klymkiw: GOD KNOWS WHERE I AM - HOT DOCS 2016 Review By Greg Klymkiw - Poetic Truth". The Film Corner with Greg Klymkiw. Retrieved 2018-12-28.
  11. ^ "GOD KNOWS WHERE I AM". Roxie. 2017-04-07. Retrieved 2018-12-28.
  12. ^ Kiang, Jessica; Kiang, Jessica (2017-03-31). "Film Review: 'God Knows Where I Am'". Variety. Retrieved 2018-12-28.
  13. ^ Punter, Jennie (2016-03-22). "Hot Docs Festival Unveils Full Lineup". Variety. Retrieved 2018-10-01.
  14. ^ "21 New Movies You Should See in April". Harper's BAZAAR. 2017-03-30. Archived from the original on 2017-04-26. Retrieved 2018-10-01.
  15. ^ God Knows Where I Am, archived from the original on 2018-11-07, retrieved 2018-10-01
  16. ^ Orr, Christopher (2016-07-01). "Friendship, Identity, and the Dark Side of Tickling at the Nantucket Film Fest". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on 2018-11-06. Retrieved 2018-10-01.
  17. ^ "Review: A Descent Into Mental Illness in 'God Knows Where I Am'". Archived from the original on 2018-11-06. Retrieved 2018-10-01.
  18. ^ "Review-A mentally ill woman's harrowing final days: 'God Knows Where I Am'". Washington Post. Archived from the original on 2018-11-06. Retrieved 2018-10-01.
  19. ^ "'God Knows Where I Am': Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on 2018-11-06. Retrieved 2018-10-01.
  20. ^ "2016 NAPA VALLEY FILM FESTIVAL ANNOUNCES FESTIVAL AWARD WINNERS • NVFF18 • NOV 7 - 11". www.nvff.org. 2016-11-12. Archived from the original on 2018-11-06. Retrieved 2018-10-01.
  21. ^ "God Knows Where I Am Takes AC Award for Cinematography at Salem Film Fest - The American Society of Cinematographers". theasc.com. Archived from the original on 2018-11-06. Retrieved 2018-10-01.
  22. ^ "God Knows Where I Am | New Hampshire Film Festival". New Hampshire Film Festival. 2016-10-14. Archived from the original on 2018-11-06. Retrieved 2018-10-01.