Todd and Jedd Wider found out about the saga of Linda Bishop from a 2011 New Yorker story by Rachel Aviv, Bishop was discovered in 2012 in a house she didn’t own, having been dead for some time and with no one even knowing she was there.
Naturally the Wider brothers didn’t have the real Linda Bishop to talk to or film, but Bishop left behind two journals full of her observations as she roomed in the house with no electricity during one of New Hampshire’s most brutal winters. Lori Singer reads the journal, bringing warmth and passion to Bishop’s recounting of her days.
As Singer reads the entries, audiences are treated to some of the most beautiful cinematography to ever be seen in a documentary. The Widers and cinematographer Gerardo Puglia recreate what Bishop must have seen through each day, from a baby deer to mounting snow to the New Hampshire woods where she picked up her apples.
Apples are a key part of the film; Bishop continually keeps track of how many she’s picked and how many she’s eaten, almost counting down the days until she starts to starve. The Widers employed a food stylist, who documents the rotting of the apples over time and also cooked every single recipe Bishop mentioned in her journal.
Interspersed with Bishop’s observations are interviews with her friends and family and the police who dealt with her unusual death. They tell of her happy childhood and her eventual descent into mental illness — she begins to think she’s being targeted by the Chinese mafia and that a man she met once, named Steve, will come and rescue her.
The interviews are heartbreaking, especially as it moves closer to what led her to being discharged from a psychiatric hospital and out on her own. It raises some serious questions: how could the state’s legal system push away someone who so obviously needed help?
God Knows Where I Am was created to give back some dignity to Linda Bishop, a wise and funny woman whose life turned tragic and it succeeds beautifully. This documentary is pure poetry.
The documentary is playing May 2 and 7 at Toronto’s Hot Docs International Film Festival. All of Digital Journal’s coverage of the 2016 festival can be found here.