Written by Asiyah Rajab
Congratulations to Melissa Haizlip for winning Best First Documentary Feature for MR. SOUL!, made with the support of WMM’s Production Assistance (PA) Program, and to PA Program alum Kirsten Johnson for winning Best Director and Best Documentary Feature for her new film DICK JOHNSON IS DEAD in the 2020 Critics Choice Documentary Awards!
Kirsten Johnson is an innovative filmmaker with credits in over 70 different films and directing 6 of her own. She has worked on films about everything from the Evangelical Christian chastity movement (VIRGIN TALES, 2012), to terrorism in the Middle East (THE OATH). Johnson has received accolades and awards from a myriad of festivals such as the Sundance Film Festival and the New York Film Festival. Her latest work, DICK JOHNSON IS DEAD focuses on her own father Richard, who suffers from dementia, and portrays different ways—some of them violent “accidents”—in which he could ultimately die. In each scenario, the elderly Johnson plays along with his daughter’s black humor and imaginative fantasies.
Born in Boston and raised in the US Virgin Islands, Connecticut, and New York, Melissa Haizlip is a Chaz and Roger Ebert Producing Fellow with several producing and directing credits under her belt. Haizlip is an alumna of Film Independent’s Project Involve, Firelight Media Documentary Lab, the PGA Diversity Workshop, and WMM’s Production Assistance Program. Her latest work, MR.SOUL!, captures a critical moment in culture when the public television variety show SOUL!, guided by the enigmatic producer and host Ellis Haizlip — who is also the filmmaker’s uncle, offered an unfiltered, uncompromising celebration of Black literature, poetry, music, and politics—voices that had few other options for national exposure. The series was among the first to provide expanded images of African Americans on television, shifting the gaze from inner-city poverty and violence to the vibrancy of the Black Arts Movement.