The discovery of a woman’s dead body in a New Hampshire farmhouse creates a sad, strange mystery in God Knows Where I Am, the directing debut of brothers Jedd and Todd Wider. Producers of award-winning docs by Alex Gibney and others, the Widers apply great artistic ambition to a story few would handle in this manner, resulting in a haunting film that deserves the special jury prize it was awarded at Hot Docs. Though its slow-building revelations present challenges to those who’d like to recommend it to friends, the picture will play very well with non-fiction audiences and have special value to advocates for the homeless and the mentally ill.
Opening with a dramatically illuminated shot of an apple tree, the movie quickly distances itself from the kind of TV news-magazine aesthetic viewers may expect. Throughout, the Widers and DP Gerardo Puglia (shooting on 35mm and other formats) will linger carefully over the few places and objects that made up their subject’s whole world for the last months of her life.
That subject is Linda Bishop, whose story was told in a very different fashion by Rachel Aviv in The New Yorker five years ago. There, readers immediately knew crucial facts about Bishop’s life. Here, though, we work backwards: discovering her unidentified body in the house she’d been squatting in, and hearing from the policeman who found two spiral notebooks beside her makeshift bed. The journals were addressed “to whomever finds my body”; they said at the outset that her death was the result of domestic abuse.
How did such abuse leave her in a vacant house owned by strangers, where she hid from locals during the day and scavenged apples — her only food for several months — at night? The film proceeds as if it thinks hearing “the answer” too quickly would give us a false belief that we understood the question. Instead, the Widers focus on getting us into Linda’s head. We hear from her relatives and friends, who describe a bright, gregarious student of art. More importantly, we hear directly from her, as an offscreen Lori Singer reads Bishop’s day-by-day account of her solitary final months.
Linda is appreciative of the home she has found, noting its pastoral details (she marvels at “a cardinal and a chickadee on top of a lilac”) and meticulously accounting for the apples she harvests. She explores things left behind by the house’s previous residents, and the film shares her curiosity, going to interview its owners and combing through old photo albums. But loneliness and need creep into the journals, and slowly we begin to hear about the person Linda is expecting to find her in this house.
As it gets into the literal details of how Linda wound up here, the film raises concerns about America’s health care policies that are more pressing thanks to the roundabout way we’ve gotten to them. But the film is too invested in the personal to get very political. At its heart, it remains a quiet elegy for a woman who needn’t have died so soon, or so alone.
Production company: Wider Film Projects
Directors-Producers: Jedd Wider, Todd Wider
Director of photography: Gerardo Puglia
Editor: Keiko Deguchi
Composers: Robert Logan and Ivor Guest
Additional Music by: Paul Cantelon and Moshe Knoll
Venue: Hot Docs International Documentary Film Festival