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

Todd Wider God Knows Where I
Patrick James Miller for Variety

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?

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