March 6, 2021

11:00 am

(Un)Real Docs Panel


Live Q&A with Panelists Kirsten Johnson, Bill & Turner Ross and John Wilson

Sat. March 6, 2021 | 11:00 AM PT

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About the Q&A

The American Cinematheque invites you to join renowned documentary filmmakers Kirsten Johnson, Bill & Turner Ross and John Wilson in a panel examining their critically acclaimed works of 2020, each of which pushes the boundaries of documentary form through their highly personal and poetic filmmaking styles.

Moderated by film and television critic Matt Zoller Seitz.

In a year that saw numerous documentaries addressing issues that echo around the world, few works have balanced the personal with the universal experience in such artful and inventive ways as those from the four panelists. Whether motivated by an obsession with the unthinkable sense of loss and the fantastical desire to reverse time in DICK JOHNSON IS DEAD, or compelled by a devoted appreciation for the poetry in the most mundane facets of life, as seen in BLOODY NOSE, EMPTY POCKETS and HOW TO WITH JOHN WILSON, each filmmaker has sought truth by primarily looking inward to examine situations and feelings we all experience. In this panel, the filmmakers will discuss how these personal fascinations require filmmaking modes that largely ignore the common tropes of documentary filmmaking and tend towards more poetic, and at times, surreal visions of life.

In preparation for the panel, we encourage you to seek out and watch the following films & series:


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About the Panelists

Kirsten Johnson is a cinematographer and director interested in addressing the changing dimensions and urgent ethical challenges of documentary camerawork. Her film, CAMERAPERSON, premiered at Sundance 2016, was shortlisted for an Academy Award, won the National Board of Review “Freedom of Expression” prize, and was awarded three 2017 Cinema Eye Honors, including ‘Outstanding Nonfiction Feature’. CAMERAPERSON was named one of the ‘TopTen Films of 2016’ by The New York Times and The Washington Post, was the Grand Jury PrizeWinner of 9 international festivals, won the ARRI Cinematography Award, and is distributed by The Criterion Collection. Her short, THE ABOVE, premiered at the 2015 New York Film Festival and was nominated for the International Documentary Association ‘Best Short Award’ for 2016. Kirsten’s camerawork has appeared in the Academy Award-winning CITIZEN FOUR, Cannes Premiere RISK, Academy Award-nominated THE INVISIBLE WAR, Tribeca Documentary Winner, PRAY THEDEVIL BACK TO HELL, Cannes winner FAHRENHEIT 9/11, and Emmy Award-winning LADIESFIRST. She teaches “Visual Thinking” in the NYU Graduate Journalism Department. She is a 2017 Guggenheim Fellow and was recently invited to be one of the 4% of ASC members who are women.

Bill and Turner Ross are an American filmmaking team whose credits include the award-winning films 45365 (2009), TCHOUPITOULAS (2012), WESTERN (2015), and CONTEMPORARY COLOR (2017). Their work has been featured at museums and film festivals throughout the world, including the Museum of Modern Art, Lincoln Center in New York, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the British Film Institute in London. Their work has been supported by the Sundance Institute, the Rooftop Filmmaker’s Fund, Cinereach, the San Francisco Film Society and a generous grant from the late Roger Ebert. They were honored as Ambassadors for the American Film Showcase and as Sundance Documentary Institute Fellows. They were named Decade Filmmakers by Cinema Eye Honors, and in 2018 they became members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences.  When not making their own films, they collaborate with friends and fellow filmmakers such as Benh Zeitlin (BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, WENDY), David Lowery (AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS, A GHOST STORY), A.J. Schnack (CAUCUS), Robert Greene (BISBEE ’17), Raoul Peck (I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO), and David Byrne. They live and work in New Orleans.

John Wilson is a documentarian based in Queens, NY. Partially inspired by a short-lived career working for a private investigator, John spent a decade obsessively documenting street life in NYC and self-released all his work onto his Vimeo page. His films eventually caught the eye of Nathan Fielder, whom John soon started a collaboration with. Season one of his new HBO series, “How To with John Wilson” is currently streaming on HBOMax and his older work is available at

About the Films

BLOODY NOSE, EMPTY POCKETS, 2020, Utopia, 98 min, USA, Dirs: Bill Ross IV, Turner Ross. In the shadows of the bright lights of Las Vegas, it’s last call for a beloved dive bar known as the Roaring 20s. That’s the premise, at least; the reality is as unreal as the world the regulars are escaping from. BLOODY NOSE, EMPTY POCKETS is a mosaic of disparate lives, teetering between dignity and debauchery, reckoning with the past as they face an uncertain future and singing as their ship goes down. Filmmaking duo Bill and Turner Ross (WESTERN, 2015 Sundance Film Festival) return with an elegiac portrait of a tiny world fading away but still warm and beating with the comfort of community. Their beguiling approach to nonfiction storytelling makes for a foggy memory of experience lost in empty shot glasses and puffs of smoke.

DICK JOHNSON IS DEAD,, 2020, Netflix, 90 min, USA, Dir: Kirsten Johnson. A lifetime of making documentaries has convinced award-winning filmmaker Kirsten Johnson of the power of the real. But now she’s ready to use every escapist movie-making trick in the book – staging inventive and fantastical ways for her 86-year-old psychiatrist father to die while hoping that cinema might help her bend time, laugh at pain and keep her father alive forever. The darkly funny and wildly imaginative DICK JOHNSON IS DEAD is a love letter from a daughter to a father, creatively blending fact and fiction to create a celebratory exploration of how movies give us the tools to grapple with life’s profundity.

HOW TO WITH JOHN WILSON,, 2020, HBO, 30 min, USA, Dir: John Wilson. Documentary filmmaker and self-described “anxious New Yorker” John Wilson serves as writer, director, cameraman, producer, and narrator of this all-new six-episode comedy docuseries. In a uniquely hilarious odyssey of self-discovery and cultural observation, Wilson covertly and obsessively films the lives of his fellow New Yorkers while attempting to give everyday advice on relatable topics. Building upon Wilson’s previously released “how-to” short films, the episodes take wildly unexpected turns but are grounded in Wilson’s refreshing honesty.

Zoom Details

To view the online discussion, you will need to have the Zoom video application installed on your computer beforehand. It can be downloaded at You will receive a Zoom link the day of the online discussion. If you have any issue connecting to our Q&A, please email [email protected] and we will do our best to assist you.

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