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I had the opportunity to see this film several days ago while working at the American Film Market, and I have been telling everyone I know to see it. I'm not sure what the deal is with a wide release, but everyone who loves documentary should see this one when it comes out.
For those of you who aren't familiar with the title character, Daniel Johnston is a manic- depressive artist/musician who currently resides in Waller, Texas with his elderly parents. I had been a fan of his music for sometime, and also having lived in Austin, had been aware of his status as a local fixture, but there was so much fascinating information divulged in this film that I never knew about. The film spans the life (up to the present) of this incredibly complex person, who truly resides in a world of his own creation. It's clear that the filmmaker has a deep appreciation and love for Johnston's work, and his world is painstakingly brought to life through animation, recreation, and wonderfully edited home movies and audio cassette tapes. His friends and family also offer insight into the various events which were pivotal in Johnston's life.
The wealth of self-documentation that Johnston has created over his life, starting from childhood, is one of the things that makes this film truly magnificent. Over the years, we can literally see this person change before our eyes, as though gradually being claimed by a dark force. The "dark force" in this case is manic depression; metaphorically The Devil for Johnston, who is a devout Christian. Johnston's struggle to connect with people he loves through the fog of his illness is devastating. While this can be difficult to watch (at least for me), there is the powerful reward of the music and drawings that Johnston has produced throughout, both in spite of and as a direct result of this struggle. That something heartbreakingly beautiful in it's simplicity and honestly can come from such a terrible struggle, is what makes this story and this film remarkable.
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