Directors Jedd and Todd Wider know how to create suspense, even from an old news item that probably raised too few eyebrows at the time. The facts are these: unwilling to take her medication or receive any treatment for a mental illness she didn’t believe she had, Linda Bishop was discharged unconditionally from New Hampshire Hospital. To protect patient privacy, her family was not notified. With no support, no housing, and no access to money, Linda wandered until she chose an abandoned farm house in which to hole up. Over the brutal winter months, Linda slowly starved to death, mere feet away from help if she wanted it, without her sister or daughter ever being aware that she was missing.
Wider and Wider have used Bishop’s case to exemplify the broader problem of how mental illness is addressed both in medical and justice settings, but also take the time to ask intelligent questions regarding individual rights. Because Linda Bishop was in fact an individual: a mother, a sister, a gardener, a knitter, a reader. She died tragically, needlessly, but in life, when she was well, she was vibrant and engaging. Wider and Wider treat her with dignity, and are able to do so in large part because of detailed journal entries she left behind at the time of her death.
While interviews with her closest friends and family members are illuminating and home movie footage sheds insight on happier times, it is her own ghostly words that prove invaluable to uncovering the truth about what happened to her alone in that farmhouse. Did Linda intend to die? Did she give up hope? Did she wait for rescue? Question her choices? Acknowledge her disease?
While Lori Singer gives voice to Bishop’s words, Jedd and Todd Wider paint us a picture of what her last days would have looked like with truly stunning, poetical cinematography rare in a documentary. Hopelessness and beauty intermingle, making for some stirring if haunting images. Did I sometimes find it a little pretentious? Sure I did. But even an Asshole like me can admit and admire when a documentary is trying to elevate itself. Combined with her journal entries read aloud, these images make her story all the more personal. God Knows Where I Am is both an intimate portrait and a rousing call to action.
This movie was screened at the Hot Docs festival in Toronto; this review first appeared at Cinema Axis, home to many more excellent Hot Docs reviews.