The Devil and Daniel Johnston

Director: Jeff Feuerzeig

Institute History


The Devil and Daniel Johnston is a stunning portrait of a musical genius who nearly slipped away. Director Jeff Feuerzeig exquisitely depicts a perfect example of brilliance and madness going hand in hand. Because he is an artist suffering from manic depression with delusions of grandeur, Daniel Johnston's life is marked by wild fluctuations, numerous downward spirals, and periodic respites.

As a reclusive teenager, Johnston began showing signs of unusual artistic ability. He created intuitive Super 8 films and expressive comic book-style drawings in the basement of his family's home. In the eyes of his fundamentalist Christian family, however, he simply wasn't contributing to society in a useful or productive way. After running off and joining a carnival, Johnston landed in Austin, Texas, broke and alone. It was there he began to hone his musical career, managing to secure a brief spotlight on MTV with the help of a timely break. Just as he was beginning to make a local name for himself, however, Johnston's inner demons began to surface.

The film artfully melds current footage, vintage performances, home movies, and dozens of recorded audiotapes from Johnston's life. Testimony from supportive friends and a deeply committed family adds a rich layer to Johnston's personal history, but Daniel Johnston's poetic songs tell their own passionate, haunting, and truly unforgettable story.

— Lisa Viola

Screening Details

Sundance Film Festival Awards


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