rom director Brad Abrahams (Conspiracy Cruise) comes a profile documentary so surreal and entrenched in the life of controversial conspiracy theorist artist David Dees, that your understanding of reality from the ‘other side’ might just come into focus. While the views of the artist in question are far from relatable, growing distrust of our institutions give way to an alarming amount of people who will understand where Dees is coming from. A film that will frustrate, enlighten, and enrage, Do you see what I see? is an unsettling, yet empathetic portrait of the “notorious” illustrator, his beliefs and his eye-catching, yet problematic works of art.
The spread of misinformation is now so commonplace the issues Do you see what I see? raises are certainly not to be ignored. Presenting a glimpse into the psyche of someone who has gone so far down the rabbit hole they are living in an alternate reality, Abrahams’ short provides a chilling word of warning for us all. Yet for Dees, this wasn’t always the case. Before the recently departed illustrator was the unofficial conspiracy theory artist for the masses, he was an artist for Sesame Street, for over a decade, and had a promising future ahead of him (which Dees claims was curtailed after he was poisoned with Cadmium).
“Profiling David Dees turned out to be the most challenging subject yet”
Dees’ backstory and his beliefs are what ultimately drew Abrahams, whose body of work focuses on cryptozoologists, alien abductees, renegade scientists, & conspiracy theorists, to film a profile documentary about him. For Abrahams, probing into the psychology of people like Dees, coupled with the allure of the unknown, was something he felt compelled to explore. “No matter how bizarre the person or tale, my M.O. is to present them in a nonjudgmental, non-marginalizing manner, with disarming sincerity. Because of the darkness of his beliefs, profiling David Dees turned out to be the most challenging subject yet,” the director tells Short of the Week.
Abrahams wanted to juxtapose the two halves of Dees persona, a sensitive empath and rabid conspiracy theorist, allowing for enough empathy to suspend judgment. He argues that conspiracy theories used to be a phenomena most of the public could laugh at and disregard, but we no longer have that luxury. “They can consume lives, destroy families, and lead to violence,” Abrahams points out. “Instead of othering or ignoring the believers, we must understand how they got there and why they believe, so we can create a dialogue that helps pull them back from the abyss.”
The question here is whether Dees’ extremist art and the hurt/offence it caused is in any way forgivable? Is Abrahams asking too much from his audience? Attempting to bring back someone from “the abyss” is a massive undertaking for any one individual, but Do you see what I see? manages to humanize its protagonist in such a way that it’s hard to write Dees off as a lost cause. It’s therefore even more unfortunate, and emotionally impactful, that due to Dees’ passing – we’ll never get that chance to see if he could/would change.
Wanting the film to feel intimate, Abrahams kept his crew to two (including himself) and shot on two small cameras, using mostly wide-angle lenses to achieve a “subtle alien feeling”. Intermittent use of GoPro shots were used to achieve a feeling of surveillance, while a 360 camera captured the art-making sequence. Abrahams was able to rotate that camera in post for a frenetic and anxious feeling when introducing Dees’ body of work, mimicking the mind of an artist with a frail grasp on reality. With this inventive craft feeling perfectly suited to capture the life of this controversial figure, Do you see what I see? is a compelling and provocative watch with undeniable insinuations about the growing decline of our society’s mental health.
With an uncanny ability to capture the strange, we can all look forward to a number of new projects Abrahams has in the works. Currently working on a docu-series about Cryptozoologists – those who dedicate their lives to searching for animals that may not exist, like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster – he also has another documentary series in the works, which will be hosted by Richard Ayoade and focus on bizarre folklore from around the world. Finally, Abrahams is also continuing his deep dive into the minds of conspiracy theorists with a feature-length documentary. We’re excited for a new perspective on the otherworldly!