Todd Wider on the ‘Intimate and Artistic Journey’ of Documentary ‘God Knows Where I Am’

Some might consider surgeon and Emmy-Award-winning documentary producer Todd Wider a hero; he’s provided free surgical care during emergencies, helped pass important federal laws, and created films advocating social justice. His newest doc, “God Knows Where I Am”— his directorial debut with his brother, Jedd — tells the tragic story of Linda Bishop, a mother suffering from severe bipolar disorder.

How does this doc differ from others on the subject of mental health?

We started thinking about the film as more of a large polemic — an exercise in analyzing some of the social-service questions about these big-picture problems. We took a more intimate and artistic journey, though, because we felt it would help you feel more for this person. It’s sort of an experiential documentary — we wanted to create a theatrical experience more akin to a feature. Some documentaries should try to elevate the art form.

What did you hope people would take from the film?

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We wanted the audience to be moved by getting inside of Linda’s head and understanding her as a full human being with hopes, dreams, and desires. She had a life. How is it that this person could have fallen so far down through all these social-service safety nets, to wind up alone in a house, starving to death, hiding under a blanket for fear that she would be somehow “caught”? In a sense, we forgot to save her.

How did your previous experiences prepare you for your directorial debut?

We’ve produced a number of award-winning documentaries with some wonderful directors. Our producing history helped us immeasurably in preparing us to direct this — to know what to expect, to understand the complexities of constructing a film that holds up on its own, production and post-production.

How did you get into film as a surgeon?

I had an experience with a woman suffering from breast cancer whose insurance company declined to pay for her reconstructive surgery. I became incensed, hearing them say it was cosmetic rather than medically necessary. I did the operation for free, and ended up going on a political crusade that ended with the passage of the federal Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act, signed by Bill Clinton. After I saw I could create change, I thought, How does one continue to do that? I decided to go into media, which was something I’d dreamed of doing.

Things you didn’t know about Todd Wider:

FREQUENT COLLABORATOR: Alex Gibney FAVORITE SECONDARY ART MEDIUM: Oil painting DIGITAL OR ANALOG: Analog HERO MOMENT: Volunteer surgeon at Ground Zero after 9/11

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