YEAR:  2012

DIRECTOR:  Treva Wurmfeld

GENRE: Documentary

LENGTH: 88 minutes

 
Synopsis: (From TIFF program notes)

Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark met in Greenwich Village in the early 1960s and, despite leading very different lives, have remained close friends ever since. Shepard became a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright (Buried Child) and an Academy Award®–nominated actor (The Right Stuff), while Dark was a homebody with a penchant for letter writing and photography, supporting himself with odd jobs - from dogcatcher to deli worker. Through the decades, they stayed bonded by family ties. Dark married an older woman named Scarlett; Shepard married her daughter. The two couples lived together for years until Shepard broke away for a relationship with Jessica Lange in 1982, leaving Johnny to help raise Shepard’s first son. Nevertheless, he and Dark continued writing to each other, amassing hundreds of letters.

Director Treva Wurmfeld began filming the two friends in 2010 during a period of transition and reflection for Shepard. He had quietly ended his relationship with Lange at the time and accepted a proposal to publish his correspondence with Dark. The task required them to meet and sift through years of their shared history, stirring memories both good and bad. Wurmfeld observes the two men, separately and together, over a period of eighteen months and captures an indelible portrait of a complex friendship. On the surface, they are like jovial siblings, having laughs at each other’s expense, but as they trace back four decades of experience, each man taps into deeper subjects of love, duty, fatherhood, illness, grief, passion, money, art, freedom and isolation.

Shepard has an avowed aversion to writing his memoirs and prefers to let his work speak for itself. However, with rare intimacy and access to a rich archive of old photographs and family movies, Wurmfeld manages to unveil the past in a way that speaks both to Shepard’s work and to his current state of mind. Shepard has always had an arresting screen presence, from his first appearance in "Days of Heaven" to his latest work in "Mud". He’s equally compelling as himself, and well-matched playing opposite the screen debut of Johnny Dark.

 
Posters & Photos

Toronto International Film Festival

 

During filming in Quanah, Texas

 
Film Festivals:
Toronto International Film Festival - September 2012
Woodstock Film Festival - October 2012  (Awarded Best Feature Documentary)
DOC NYC 2012 - November 2012
Big Sky Documentary Film Festival - February 2013
Martha's Vineyard Film Festival - March 2013
Florida Film Festival - April 2013
Ashland Independent Film Festival - April 2013
Cleveland International Film Festival - April 2013

San Francisco Int'l Film Festival - May 2013
Cannes Film Festival - May 2013
 
Treva Wurmfeld discusses her film:

“Shepard & Dark” focuses on legendary playwright/actor Sam Shepard and his complex relationship with long-term friend Johnny Dark – a writer and archivist who lives in Deming, New Mexico and works behind a deli counter. The film unfolds in earnest; capturing an honest, and often comedic, portrait of two male friends with a rich history, now close to the border of decade numero siete.

Sam and Johnny both have a strong aversion to modern technology and seem to resist anything that might come along with the modern era. In general, they cling to a Beatnik spirit of adventure that one associates with teenagers reeling to break free from the confines of authority. Sam still uses a typewriter, and has a collection of Scorpion-themed paperweights. Johnny prefers an 80s word processor and drives a 1970 Chevy Nova. Neither of course have email. Both avoid airplanes. And they bicker like nobody’s business about Bing Crosby vs. Tony Bennett and what time they should eat dinner.

Making a film about these two men posed some unique challenges, almost a comedy of errors if you will. Between the novelty of my video camera, and my age/gender – which neither seemed to associate with any semblance of serious professionalism – I was never quite sure if they understood me, or what I was doing there. At one point they even started referring to me as an alien.

At times, I ironically felt like the Euro-centric Anthropologist attempting to “study” the non-western people. How could I leave my modern ways behind and assimilate into their culture? In reality I’m a feminist filmmaker and I pride myself on my independence not to mention my tech-savvy ways – but here I was attempting to document these luddites and well… let’s just say, not quite feminist men.

Ultimately, I filmed Sam and Johnny on and off over an 18 month period, in New Mexico, California, Kentucky and Texas. Despite the camera always on my arm, over time, I slowly began to feel drawn into some of their “old man” ways. I started writing hand-written letters and spending days traveling by car, staying in road-side motels. I would sit at the Denny’s counter with Johnny and share an ice-cream sundae. I even started taking harmonica lessons. In effect, rather than channeling the old man in me – it turned out – I just needed to channel the rebellious 50s teenager. What I learnt was that Sam and Johnny had made such an effort to not turn into their fathers that they themselves had never quite grown up. The final result is a film that I feel captures a human spirit that transcends age or gender.

 
Black Book interview with Treva Wurmfeld:

Can you tell me about your background as a filmmaker and what led you to Sam?

I actually have a background in fine art; I got my MFA in New York, focused in video art. While I was in graduate school I started making documentaries and that grew into an interest in interactive media and technology. So I had these video stills and I needed work, so I was able to do a behind the scenes documentary for a film called Jumper, and I got really inspired being on the set of a big film and decided to take a stab at writing and directing myself. I made a short film in 2007, which had a festival run, and then I ended preparing a Sam Shepard documentary in 2010. One of the main reasons why I had started that was because I did an interview with him on the set of a film called Fair Game, another Doug Liman film. That interview with Sam had so little to do with Fair Game, because he had such a small role, so I just took advantage of that opportunity to interview Sam Shepard about everything I’d want to ask him and was able to channel that in raising money for feature film.

Before that first interview, had you been an admirer of his work?

Yeah, absolutely. I hadn’t seen any of his original productions put on but I had seen his shows on college campuses and that sort of thing. I actually saw one out here in LA a few years ago as well. So I had read his plays and was familiar with Paris, Texas. That was definitely in the back of my mind.

How did you approach Sam about your initial concept for the documentary? Did you know about Johnny and how they’d begun their archival process?

Once I had the idea to make the doc, I wrote Sam a hand-written letter and got it to him through Michael Almereyda, who had worked with him on Hamlet and is still a very close friend of his. So I was able to get him this letter and a couple weeks later Sam called me and said he was doing some readings in Santa Fe and asked if I’d like to come film the reading. Then he said casually, “Oh I’m going down there to pick up these letters that I’ve been writing back and forth with my close friend Johnny, and I’m going to take them down to San Marcos, Texas.” He mentioned the project in passing, but I didn’t really know at the time who Johnny was and I didn’t what the project would be and how interesting it would be to focus on. So I went down to Santa Fe and filmed these readings, which, you can probably imagine a reading or a conference for documentaries is not the most compelling thing. I really just wanted to take the opportunity to go Santa Fe, and when I got down there and interviewed them, their entire backstory just poured out of Johnny in that very first interview and I really started to see how big a role Johnny played in Sam’s life and work.

Both Sam and Johnny are interesting subjects because they would appear to be very closed off in their own way. Johnny isn’t used to being in the spotlight and although Sam puts so much of himself into his writing, I would think he’d be more hesitant to really open up. But they were both so vulnerable and willing to show, so how did you go about building that open relationship with them?

It was pretty quick because I was familiar with having to get people to open up. Part of the job is having to get your subjects to feel comfortable on camera, and there’s a certain amount of trust for that to happen. So I made a conscious effort to approach both of them with that in mind, and I also picked up on the fact that they’re both very casual, laid back in their own way. I felt like I brought that in my process as well. I had a small crew there but it was generally just me filming, so there wasn’t a lot of orchestration. I went with their schedule, on their terms, and I think they responded positively to that.

There’s so much complexity to the history of their friendship and as the film unfolds you see it’s really about the ebb and flow of that relationship. Was there anything you began to uncover about them that you were really surprised by?

You know, it’s hard to distinguish between how my impressions developed in real time while filming and how my understanding of my own film became more clear. It’s just getting to know someone. There was nothing that particularly surprised me about Sam, in terms of how he was going be with me on camera; I felt like he maintained a kind of guardedness and at the same time was very generous in giving me access and answering questions. But I also didn’t really push it; I felt like in time it would reveal itself. I was just generally surprised to learn of their particular history, because a lot of the things that ended up shaping the story, I didn’t go in with that knowledge. I wanted to film Sam and his friend and do a portrait of his life through other people and the present, but it was striking to come across Johnny and this archive and understand it all. But to actually be able to use these photographs and this incredible super 8 footage, it was amazing to me that I was the one that was able to have this opportunity to put it all together. I felt fortunate to be in that position and I didn’t expect that.

Their story really feels like something Sam would have shaped himself, it’s so reminiscent of the brotherly relationships in his work. How did you go about interacting with the two of them as director to let the story reveal itself?

I was trying to stay as neutral as possible and be understanding of both of them at all times. I think that was easier for me when they were together, in a way, because I didn’t have to get into the middle of this. But I think as you can tell in the film, there was part of their fallout over the book project that I was actually not able to be there in person for. There was a chapter where I was trying to piece it all together and wasn’t actually there for it. I had to play a role in it in order to get them both for the film to finish, which poses some interesting questions about documentary filmmaking sometimes - like how you get the subjects to go where you want them to. Obviously nothing they did was anything I fed them, but it was just playing this role of trying to get Johnny back in the headspace of thinking about their relationship when it wasn’t great. So that kind of thing was a challenge, but I generally feel like they both were surprisingly open to talking about their friendship, and even the “hiccup” in their friendship, as its called.

So much of Sam’s work is about legacy and the echoes left behind between fathers and sons and men and women as he and Johnny sift through their on archives and letters, it was as if they were discovering their own legacy for the first time. That was so interesting to see them relive these painful moments and just how reevaluating the past effected them so much in the present.

Yeah, it has a lot of parallels to "True West" and "Paris, Texas" and some of the brother characters in Sam’s work. But it was a vulnerable time for both of them because it was basically the year after Johnny’s wife has passed away - who he had lived with for as long as he’d known Sam. Obviously that was a tremendous loss in his life, and then for Sam having left Jessica. Also, he was approaching the age that his father was when was his father was killed, so there was this looming sense of outliving his father and his own mortality. I think that those factors also played a role in their friendship at this time and the way that looking back at their past was a challenge.

 
Commentary:

If you've watched this documentary, you may have been a bit confused about the chronology of the film and its uneven editing. It skips around so much that sometimes you don't have a clue where or when they're filming. In the beginning of the film, Sam arrives in San Marcos with the correspondence with scenes later filmed of the pair going through their letters. Huh? Anyway, I found this explanation from the director to be helpful - "It was about six weeks altogether over the course of eighteen months. It was much harder to know where Sam might be at any second; I couldn’t just go visit him, as I could with Johnny. There were times where I knew he’d be in Los Angeles, so I’d set up an interview. Once, I heard he would be in Kentucky, so I arranged to fly there for literally two days to meet him. The initial shoot was our drive down to Deming, New Mexico; then to Santa Fe; and on to San Marcos, Texas. That journey was a total of about six days. With Sam, I shot these little chunks, and another in Taos and Southern Colorado for about four days – they were all over the place. As for Johnny, I spent about ten days with him in Deming. Then, there was the Santa Fe chunk with both of them that took up a couple weeks."

When asked about the status in the friendship between Sam and Johnny, Ms. Wurmfeld replied, "It has been nearly a year since we finished the film. There was a period of time where I had heard they got back together and met at a Denny’s halfway between Deming and Santa Fe. But then I heard they had another falling out, and as far as I know, they aren’t talking to one another. Now, that could have changed yesterday."

Perhaps if there were screen captions pointing out dates and places, the film wouldn't suffer from that piecemeal approach and it would result in more clarity. Personally, the one thing that jumps out at me is why Sam doesn't visit Johnny in his home. Why do they meet at the supermarket deli where Johnny works if they're such close friends, almost family? Throughout the film, all you see is Sam alone in unknown places and Johnny alone in his home except for their brief time at the deli, at a Denny's and then at the Sante Fe Institute. For a film about male friendship, they should have spent more time together. But then you have to ask - exactly how much time have they actually spent together since Sam left the family over 30 years ago? I know what long distance friendships feel like through letter writing and they're not quite the same as sharing real time moments in the same space.

 
Reviews:

Lily Janiak, Village Voice:
Fame and obscurity coexist happily, for the most part, in Treva Wurmfeld's "Shepard and Dark", a look at the decades-long friendship between Sam Shepard and his onetime in-law Johnny Dark. The good-looking, easygoing documentary settles in with its two subjects, offering not just an intimate perspective on the playwright's biography but some touching reflections on the comforts and perils of long-term friendship.

Evidently prompted by a book project compiling letters the two wrote each other through the years, the film benefits greatly from Dark's near-obsessive archival tendencies. Universities in Texas have acquired mountains of material related to Shepard's plays, while Dark kept not just every letter they wrote but boxes full of photos and home movies. Since the two lived communally for years - Dark's wife was Shepard's first wife's mother, and the two couples lived together with Shepard's son - the photographic record is especially rich.

The home material affords a sideways view of Shepard's career on stage and screen, but more attention is paid to the personal demons that informed his writing - the alcoholic, critical father; the broken relationships with women; the tendency toward what Shepard describes as "the blues." Time-traveling through a sheaf of correspondence, the author observes "my life is falling apart" and laments making the same mistakes again and again.

But Wurmfeld wisely refuses to make her film one-sided, taking plenty of time to draw Dark's character as well. Friendly but hermetic, he's happy to live in the middle of nowhere, working at a supermarket deli and spending his off-hours with simple pleasures: books, baths, introspection and marijuana. His isolation makes him an excellent philosophical foil for Shepard, who divides his time between the theater and compulsive road trips.

Their letters (which we hear them read in voiceover) are full of thoughtful reflections on life and how to live it; both men express astonishment that a seemingly unlikely friendship could be so nourishing, despite differences in geography and circumstance, for so long. Poignantly, Wurmfeld captures a hiccup in the relationship, as the two briefly share office and living space while trying to whittle stacks of letters into a readable book. Here, little differences in sensibility bubble into major irritants, offering a first-hand look at the kind of rift that looks petty to outsiders but can appear insurmountable from within.

A.O. Scott, NY Times:
“Shepard & Dark,” a new documentary by Treva Wurmfeld, begins with two writers at work. In Deming, N.M., a silver-haired man touch-types at the keyboard of a far-from-new desktop, chuckling to himself between bong hits, flanked by bookshelves bearing volumes by Tolstoy and Gurdjieff. Meanwhile, on a ranch somewhere around Los Angeles, another fellow pecks at a portable typewriter, transcribing densely lettered blocks of prose from a worn Moleskine notebook.

That second guy, weathered and handsome, will look familiar. He is Sam Shepard, one of the best-known living playwrights and also a movie actor of longstanding renown. Johnny Dark, his friend and correspondent of about 50 years and his on-screen conversation partner, is a different story. It would be wrong to say that Mr. Dark never achieved fame, because he makes it very clear that he never sought it. He works at a supermarket, spends time with his dogs and has settled into a solitary and self-sufficient existence...

The two men met in New York in the 1960s, when Mr. Shepard was a rising star of experimental theater. Mr. Dark married Scarlett Johnson, whose daughter O-Lan married Mr. Shepard. The two couples lived together for most of the 1970s in the San Francisco area, along with Scarlett’s other daughter and Sam and O-Lan’s son, Jesse, Mr. Dark’s stepgrandson. When Scarlett suffered a severe brain hemorrhage, Mr. Shepard helped her and her husband through a grueling and incomplete convalescence, and when Mr. Shepard moved out to pursue his relationship with Jessica Lange, Mr. Dark was there to provide emotional support for Jesse and O-Lan.

Through it all, they wrote letters full of loose-limbed philosophizing, emotional candor and gruff wit. Those letters, which fill cartons and binders, provide the movie with its premise. Mr. Shepard, shortly after splitting with Ms. Lange, decided to sell them to a library in Texas and prepare a volume for publication, along with some of Mr. Dark’s photographs.

The editing process does not go smoothly, and the easy rapport between the old pals starts to fray, as temperamental differences and asymmetries of status pull them apart. Friendship is almost always built on competition as well as solidarity, and respect can be a mask for envy. Mr. Shepard, restless and ambitious, takes for granted some of the privileges of fame but also looks wistfully at Mr. Dark’s steadfastness and contentment. Mr. Dark at one point complains about feeling like Mr. Shepard’s “sidekick,” but at times in “Shepard & Dark” it seems as if the reverse is true, as if the plain-spoken, pot-smoking deli clerk possesses greater charisma and deeper wisdom than the eminent writer.

But in the end, who knows? The film points toward a rich and complicated story that only partly makes it onto the screen. Its subjects balance their forthrightness with a certain reticence and resist their own nostalgic tendencies. There was once something there, something remarkable, but neither the film nor its main characters can quite capture what it was.

Betsy Sharkey, LA Times:
There is a distinctive intimacy to a handwritten letter between friends. You can feel the emotion behind the stroke of the pen, layers of meaning in the choice of a word. Put the letter writers in a room together and there is both comfort and disquiet, as if the other knows, perhaps, too much...

Watching the interplay, the men seem like two curmudgeonly sides of the same coin. Shepard keeps an ancient typewriter close. Dark works on an '80s-era computer that looks like a museum piece. Both have opinions about the papers and the process. There are sticking points on what to include and what time to eat dinner.

For all the similarities in their thinking — which created the initial bond — they have different charms, though both work well on screen.

The film takes us inside Dark's quiet, orderly life, with his dogs and his kindness equally well known around town. A steady supply of weed takes the edge off any difficulties. Shepard is all edges, talking of the mistakes he's repeated, the rootlessness he often feels, plucking on his guitar late into the night.

When Wurmfeld lets them fall into old stories sparked by a line in a letter, it's a nice bit of serendipity. Allowing them to dissolve into laughter at some private joke is not as satisfying. At one point the film and the book stalled over Shepard and Dark's differences, the filmmaker at the mercy of the whims of her unruly subjects.

Anne Brodie, Monsters and Critics:  
If you want to put an impossible strain on a forty-year friendship, make a documentary about it. What starts as a delightfully upbeat and well-meaning look at an enduring friendship between an award winning writer and actor and a deli clerk evolves into something entirely unexpected. It blindsides us with the force of human will and intolerance and at a deeper level at our inability to stop isolating ourselves...

Wurmfeld’s thoughtful and provocative documentary illustrates the problems of their friendship and personalities, as affected by time and age. We see the wunderkind in new ways which not only explain why he is apparently an unhappy man, but how he nurtures his art. Dark explains his side of things and his growing discomfort being the “sidekick to a famous person” in a vivid and clear eyed manner.

The way the mood changes over the course of two hours is just breathtaking. "Shepard & Dark" is a deeply engaging experience that feels like a living two man play. And it illustrates that our idols have feet of clay and worse than that, have no money! From love to loneliness, it reminds us that the ideal life we imagine takes work and the willingness to bend.

Isabel Coixet, El Periódico de Catalunya:
For over 40 years, Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark have maintained a friendship that has stood the test of time with a huge difference between their lifestyles. They met in the New York theater scene of the 70s when Sam Shepard was a young aspiring playwright and Johnny Dark, a writer without publishing ambition, lived from odd jobs (had up to 30 different jobs in his life). They began to talk daily about authors and books they admired and spoke also about their respective parents, who both had a complicated relationship...

"Shepard & Dark" explores the unusual relationship of these two men and is perhaps one of the most lucid and poetic testimonies that I have seen on male friendship. It's a fascinating portrait of two men who have struggled to stay true to themselves... Sam asks again and again why he repeats the same mistakes. Why has he not found a balance between solitude and company.

Dark knows that selling the college correspondence will put to end to their economic problems although the idea of ​​leaving home to work arranging the letters and photographs is deeply disturbing. The two men share a home and office for a few days. But old grudges and resentments come to the surface almost childlike which kills the project. A depressed and taciturn Shepard cannot stand the noise of the other, nor supports rereading the letters that remind him of a buried past. Dark, a man who has to bathe daily and have dinner at five in the afternoon, has a horrifying break in his routine and begins to realize that he has always done things his friend wanted. He becomes distressed and disappears from the house that morning. Shepard returns to Dark all his letters with a dry letter which tells him to do what he wants, that he is not interested in the project. The odd couple breaks, but maybe, hopefully, not forever.

The magic of this film is that we see two parallel lives intersect and separate again with the same emotion that we would see in the most passionate love story. And we learn some things about loyalty and life on the road.

Danita Steinberg, Toronto Film Scene
"Shepard & Dark" is the story of actor/playwright Sam Shepard and his best friend, Johnny Dark – a friendship spanning over 40 years that is documented in letters and photographs. As they come together to compile and edit these letters and photographs to sell, Shepard and Dark both wonder how much more the friendship can withstand.

As much as I hate to throw around meaningless descriptive words, "Shepard & Dark" can only be described as fascinating. It is fascinating because how often do you get an intimate glimpse into the life of a temperamental celebrity? At his best, Sam Shepard is moody. At his worst, he is unbearable. This documentary was filmed soon after Shepard’s split with Jessica Lange, which is seemingly taking its toll on him as we watch him unravel. And through the letters, we often hear about Shepard’s ongoing battle with depression. The film is also fascinating because it is a unique portrait of friendship – it is about the dynamics of two very different men, one who is famous and one who isn’t.

I ended up feeling a real pull towards both Shepard and Dark, but for different reasons. Shepard is certainly having a hard time reliving the past through these letters that Dark has kept, while Dark longs for an emotional connection with his old friend. They are on the same path heading in two separate directions. As a fly on the wall, it is heartbreaking to watch as it is a situation we can all relate to.

The film tends to focus on Dark, which he seems to enjoy because the spotlight has always been on Shepard. While Shepard is the movie star, Dark is enjoyably quirky, with a lot of clever banter to humour the audience. I delighted in getting to know Dark as a real person beyond his friendship with Shepard.

Ken Eisner, Straight.com:  
Despite the ubiquity of buddy movies, sincere male friendships are rarely portrayed in depth on-screen, making "Shepard & Dark" remarkable even apart from the rock-star glow of its participants. Well, one of its participants.

Actor, playwright, screenwriter, cowboy, songsmith, and all-around handsome man Sam Shepard, who turns 70 this year, has been corresponding with nebbishy, pot-smoking Johnny Dark for more than 40 years. Both were bullied by scholarly, alcoholic fathers and are mordantly funny writers but otherwise couldn’t be more different. While Shepard went on to 12 kinds of fame, Dark - who could be played today by Dustin Hoffman - ended up alone in a small-town New Mexico bungalow, working part-time at a deli counter.

The donation of their letters, which Dark meticulously collected, to the University of Texas prompted filmmaker Treva Wurmfeld’s constantly surprising documentary about this unlikely palship... Without spoiling anything, I’ll just observe that fame seems to offer no guarantee against despair, and money certainly can’t buy self-knowledge.

Volkmar Richter, The Vancouver Observer
This is a remarkable film because it gives you so much to think and talk about. It details the vagaries of friendship, or as my wife specifies, male friendship. Men are much shallower than women in relating to their friends and they don’t dwell on or face up to the past. That was true also for Sam Shepard, the actor, playwright, author, celebrity, and his long-time friend (since 1963) Johnny Dark, a private, stay-at-home type who worked part time at a deli meat counter. The two loved to talk about books, smoke dope and listen to Dylan.

They wrote long letters to each other when apart...Treva Wurmfeld’s documentary catches Sam and Johnny together again, now (and maybe for the first time) looking into their past through a detailed record of their thinking over all those years in those letters. The film shows them at work, often happily, sometimes annoying each other, and with the help of home movies and photos from Dark’s comprehensive personal archives, gives an intimate, surprisingly candid glimpse into their lives. Sam regrets his mistakes and can’t shake the influence of his Fulbright Scholar father who was also a drunk. Dark is a perceptive critic of Sam’s work and content to be a loner. This is a rich and thoughtful film.

Andrea Gronvall, Chicago Reader:
Timing is everything: filmmaker Treva Wurmfeld set out to document the 50-year friendship between playwright Sam Shepard and writer-archivist Johnny Dark, and wound up recording its breakdown. Shepard is a restless traveler and moody drinker, whereas Dark is a mellow stoner who sticks to home. They lived together for over a decade, when Shepard was married to Dark's stepdaughter, O-Lan, and remained friends even after the playwright left her for Jessica Lange. His relationship with Lange now ended, Shepard is shown living in a motel and angling to sell his and Dark's massive collection of correspondence, photos, and home movies for a book deal. The stress of their reunion yields fascinating insights into Shepard's work.

Avi Offer, NYC Movie Guru:
The first 30 minutes or so of the documentary does feel slightly dull, but it gets into more meaty and even philosophical territory as it progresses because that's when Shepard and Dark discuss their regrets and analyze key moments in their lives such as the eventual break-up of their friendship. Shepard says the most profound kernel of wisdom when he talks about the importance of finding the right balance between solitude and companionship, a task that's easier said than done. It would be safe to say that a good friend is a lot a lover: in both friendship and love, one has to enjoy the other's company and to embrace the good and bad qualities of the other person while remaining honest. Shepard & Dark might be more therapeutic for Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark, but it offers enough food for thought to ultimately keep the audience enlightened.

Bruce DeMara, Toronto Star:  
Wurmfeld’s story walks us through the friendship as it evolves over the many years, using excerpts from their letters, voice-overs and loads of archival photos taken by Dark. It’s actually a fascinating journey, unfolding - just like real life - in ways that are honest and unexpected and not always pleasant. Shepard, for one, seems like a bit of an ass throughout, right up until the present.

“How can we have been friends for so many years and be so different?” Dark posits, the film’s central question. Shepard is “peripatetic” and “rootless” while Dark finds solace in his humble home. While Shepard is a self-described “great enemy of sentimentality,” Dark revels in “the excitement of small events.” What unites them perhaps: difficult, disapproving fathers and the love of ideas.

Robert Bell, Exclaim, ca:  
Retracing their past while preparing old letters for publication, the pair (Shepard and Dark)wax nostalgic about the longevity of their relationship...  Much of the discussion is flowery, pot-fuelled and pretentious, as can be expected from two men that prattle on about "finding themselves" like it's something external or tangible, but Wurmfeld's framing of it all as a love story adds a layer of intrigue and identity analysis.

Deli counter operator Johnny Dark discusses Shepard's need to control his world. Everyone around him is merely a cipher for his validation and presentation. Shepard describes relationships as illusory, noting how their presence merely masks the perpetual pain of loneliness.

Their collective observations about each other - in particular, Dark's analysis of Shepard's characterization of women in his writing - says a great deal more to the audience than their straightforward perceptions of self.

Wurmfeld is aware of this, bookending the story with Dark's observation that realizations of the self don't inspire change so much as they leave one wondering what to do with that knowledge. This observation speaks to the non-physical romantic relationship between these two documentary subjects, who eventually realize just how they use each other as vessels for recapturing the past.

Shepard would denote this as fate, whereas Dark would characterize Shepard's fatalistic perspective as a lazy justification of his flaws and past mistakes. Either way, the observation here is that everything ends.

Nick Shager, A.V. Club:
The past is a source of both joy and sorrow in Shepard & Dark, an intimate documentary about the 47-year-long friendship between famed playwright and actor Sam Shepard and writer Johnny Dark...  When not casually enjoying the company of its subjects, Wurmfeld’s documentary cannily melds the sound of Dark and Shepard reading their old dispatches to aged snapshots and home movies of the two in earlier years. That aesthetic structure creates a haunting sense of the simultaneously wonderful and sad feelings both men have about lives and loves now gone, never to be recaptured. When, toward film’s end, Shepard ditches Dark and the letter-publishing task altogether, it’s yet another example of how excavating the past can open old wounds, as well as the way in which, no matter how aware they are of their foolish and hurtful behavior, some people are forever fated to repeat the same mistakes time and again.

Wisconsin Film Festival Review:
For nearly 50 years, Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark have fit in a weird way. Shepard is the acclaimed actor and playwright. Dark works the deli counter at a supermarket in Mexico. And yet, somehow, they’ve been friends most of their lives, and the engaging documentary “Shepard & Dark” shows how.

The laconic Shepard describes himself as rootless and solitary, someone who keeps moving on, even if that hurts the ones closest to him. Dark, meanwhile, is happy staying put in his cozy little house in New Mexico, surrounded by his dogs and his books. Seeing them together, there’s an easy broken-in rapport, as they tease each other and trade Dylan lyrics. But the question can’t help but occur as it often does with long friendships -  if they met each other on the street today, would they become friends?

The pair have exchanged letters for decades, and a university wants to buy them for their archives and perhaps turn the correspondence into a book. So they settle down with their boxes of old letters and try to make sense out of them. Dark in particular is almost obsessive when it comes to archiving his past, and the occasion causes the pair to reminisce about their long history together.

This delights Dark, but rankles Shepard, who has some things in his past he’s not eager to revisit. His abusive, alcoholic father looms large in his psyche, and there was a notorious incident in 1983 when Shepard left his wife and son for Jessica Lange. Dark, as it turns out, was married to Shepard’s ex-mother-in-law, and ended up staying to pick up the pieces of Shepard’s decision.

That’s a lot of shared history, and it’s perhaps inevitable that Shepard and Dark are heading for a big reckoning. Mixing interviews with old photographs and film from Dark’s personal collection, filmmaker Treva Wurmfeld has made a lovely and insightful film, not just about this friendship, but all friendships, and how having people in your life who know you so well can be a comfort and a curse.

Wurmfeld said during the post-show Q&A that she first met Shepard while making one of those making-of documentaries for the film “Fair Game.” She thought she would make a documentary just about him, but when she met Dark during the first week of filming, she knew the friendship would be the real subject of her film, each man providing insight into the other.

As intimate as “Shepard & Dark” gets, Wurmfeld said both subjects were extremely open and giving with their time, a bit of a surprise given Shepard’s reputation as being somewhat mysterious.

“I was always surprised about what he was willing to share,” she said. “They were both extremely generous in terms of answeering questions. Johnny was incredibly open with his old archives. It was really a treasure trove of material.”

Kyle Smith, NY Post:
A disarming but low-impact documentary that amounts to an odd dual biopic, “Shepard & Dark” can feel a bit like intruding on a conversation between two old friends...  The film is insightful and touching, particularly as the friends, who sold their 40 years of correspondence to a university, discuss their memories of jointly caring for Dark’s wife after she suffered a brain injury that eventually killed her. But the film is visually uninspired and meanders, as old friends’ chats tend to do. It also avoids delving too deeply into touchy areas.

Norman Wilner, Now Toronto:  
You probably know Sam Shepard, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and actor who wrote "Buried Child" and played Chuck Yeager in "The Right Stuff". You’re far less likely to have heard of his dear friend Johnny Dark, who works at a deli counter in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Shepard and Dark have known each other for half a century; they met as young men in Greenwich Village in 1963, became fast friends and maintained their connection through some very complicated times. That connection is the subject of "Shepard & Dark", a documentary by Treva Wurmfeld that follows the two over a year or so as they prepare to deliver decades of their correspondence to the archivists at Texas State University.

There are hundreds of letters and plenty of history to be sorted, not all of it pleasant... It’s a rare friendship that can survive something like that, but of course that’s why Wurmfeld is recording it, and why we’re watching. She’s also smart enough to give her subjects equal standing rather than frame them as a celebrity and his pal from the sticks. You’d want to hang around with them, too.

Noah Taylor, Dorkshelf.com
A touching though sometimes lagging story about enduring friendship, "Shepard and Dark" highlights aspects of the half-century long relationship between playwright/actor Sam Shepard and his friend, an everyday grocery clerk named Johnny Dark. The impetus for the documentary is the archiving (and eventual publishing) of hundreds of letters that passed back and forth between them over the decades. As much about the individual men as their correspondence, one can’t help but feel this lingering film would have been much more compelling as a documentary short as opposed to feature length.

Despite Shepard being the clear celebrity of the two, the film is bit more Dark heavy. A predominant theme is the inherent differences between the kindred spirits, where Shepard never seems to stay in one place for very long, Dark is very much a homebody. At first Dark comes off as a bit of a boring old man, but as the film goes on we begin to see his quirks and idiosyncrasies. An unabashed pothead with some Dude-esque qualities, it becomes apparent why simple living and part-time low wage jobs suit him. There are also a few casual references to his penchant for theft which unfortunately are never elaborated on, leaving us to wonder if this is an ongoing habit and if there are legal issues at play.

"Shepard and Dark" walks the fine line between sentimental and nostalgic with the subjects managing to keep it grounded on the sentimental side. Shepard is a sensitive, introspective man but not one to romanticize past events...  While excerpts from the letters are read out loud occasionally, the film would have benefited from sharing more of their content rather than showing the writers thumbing through the pages while making idle chit chat, perhaps they are saving some gems for the published version. Ultimately the entire project, the book as well as the accompanying documentary, feels a little like Shepard’s attempt to help his financially struggling friend who basically raised his son. A very unromantic stance to take, but I don’t think Shepard would have it any other way.

Cosima Amelang, TIFF:
One of my favourite films at the Festival so far, out of a particularly impressive program of documentaries, is "Shepard & Dark". Harking back to a pre-digital age, the film celebrates the lost art of letter writing and archives the very process of creating an archive, with all the personal dramas it can entail...

When Shepard and Dark decided to publish their correspondence in 2010, director Treva Wurmfeld began to observe their experience. In "Shepard & Dark", we tag along as she follows the two buddies over the course of eighteen months, pouring over old letters and reflecting on the past. Throughout the film, Wurmfeld is able to capture valuable moments in which the men share humble pearls of wisdom – Dark from his living room chair, surrounded by his dogs, and Shepard from wherever on the road his cowboy way of life takes him.

With Shepard and Dark’s relationship, Wurmfeld has excellent subject matter, and the simple eloquence of her filmmaking manages to do it justice. Shepard is well known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning playwriting, along with his work as an actor and director, while Dark has remained content juggling an assortment of odd jobs, from dogcatcher to deli worker. What’s refreshing about Wurmfeld’s film is that it doesn’t focus on Shepard’s fame, leaving more room for all the complexities of a years-long friendship.

The film nuances the age-old story of how opposites attract and, despite the flare-ups that often arise, remain connected for a lifetime. We come to know Shepard and Dark as two different incarnations of beatnik philosophy: Shepard is always on the move, struggling with the alcoholism in his family, while Dark, admitting to his laziness, prefers to stay at home getting stoned, immersing himself in writing and photographs. Indeed, the two remember Jack Kerouac with great affection, and together sing Bob Dylan tunes. In this respect, the film offers a more humble take on the beat-inspired culture explored elsewhere at TIFF, namely in Walter Salles’s new film "On the Road".

Tensions emerge as Shepard and Dark sort through their old material, speaking to universal experiences of friendship that we can all relate to. Balancing out these sad, even uncomfortable, moments are the comedic touches that are generated by their quirky personalities. Dark, especially, comes into his own here, as in the scene when he eats hash cookies before sitting down to work at The Santa Fe Institute. The duo’s ineptitude with technology also gets some laughs. It’s amusing to see two great minds stumped by the function of a USB key – a scene that reminds us that Shepard and Dark come from a different age of scribbled lines and typewriters, and sometimes struggle to keep up with the times.

As the friendship oscillates between these highs and lows, we come to understand the bond between Shepard and Dark beyond their communication, as an unspoken connection that is also able to withstand the periods of silence which come with conflict. In her portrayal of this implicit bond, Wurmfeld offers a more poetic vision of the bromance that has recently exploded on screen. We see the two men without their women, attempting to define themselves as individuals late in life. Ultimately, they are joined together by their respect for each other’s solitude, remaining both alone and together for their whole lives.

Nick McCarthy, Slant Magazine:
"Shepard & Dark" addresses, and acutely analyzes, the way friendship can bend, and occasionally snap, over time. Pals for over 47 years since meeting in Greenwich Village in 1963, Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark spent just as many of those years together as they did apart. During the times they weren't physically in each other's presence, they would write to each other, and there now remains a canon of lucid letters between the two.

Director Treva Wurmfeld catches these two men - Shepard, a playwright and actor, and Dark, a label-less mensch currently working at a supermarket - at a perfect time; they're reuniting to publish, through a Texas university press, a book of their letters...

Dark quickly points out that he and Shepard are different, yet "complement each other," but Wurmfeld does a fine job avoiding proscribed juxtaposition, often allowing the interplay between Dark and Shepard to speak for itself. Shepard is solipsistic, driven by wanderlust, and tortured by selfish decisions despite repeatedly making them; Dark, on the other hand, is a more hermetic, dog-loving pothead who spends most of his time in his tiny New Mexico bungalow writing Beat-influenced prose.

Mostly due to the modest yet eloquent duo, observed apart as much as together, Wurmfeld is able to coax out a portrait that's refreshingly casual in its sage wisdom. While the documentary's form is rather conventional, Wurmfeld is able to carefully and sparsely use snippets of the aforementioned letters and photos/footage from the past to full effect. The moment most indicative of this friendship, however, is a wonderful moment when the twosome walk out of a diner and Shepard starts to sing Bob Dylan's "Buckets of Rain." Without hesitating, Johnny listens, and tries to add a bit to Shepard's vocals, and they reach a harmony that's both innately aligned and yet syncopated.

Screen Daily:
While "Shepard & Dark" hits a few grace notes, it’s strictly conventional small-screen fare, likely to find audiences wherever Shepard is a known commodity. For 18 months, filmmaker Treva Wurmfeld documented the aging men, traveling back and forth between their homes and, eventually, to Texas, where the duo began sifting through their old letters.

It’s quickly apparent that the two men are very much an odd couple. In the film’s opening moments, Dark admits that friends don’t need to be alike; rather, they are “complementary.” Indeed, Shepard is peripatetic, always on the road, struggling to balance his needs for solitude and companionship; Dark is hermetic and happy to stay at home with his two dogs - “I don’t like knowing people,” he jokes...

Because Dark is an amateur archivist, saving every scrap of writing, photo and video from his past, Wurmfeld has a wealth of material to draw from: Particularly affecting is video footage of Dark’s wife Scarlett, as she struggles to recover from a brain injury and the family tries to take care of her.

And while we see brief glimpse of rehearsals of a Shepard play with Nick Nolte and Sean Penn, "Shepard & Dark" is less about Shepard’s creative work than his personal relationships. In fact, audiences who don’t know Shepard’s background will be left in the dark as the documentary offers little details of his accomplishments.

"Shepard & Dark" is also light on personal revelations. But when they do come, as when Shepard makes the surprising admission, “I continue to make the same mistakes,” the short-lived moments are powerful. However, Shepard, a man who doesn’t believe in all that psychology stuff and actively resists reliving his past, doesn’t make for the most compelling documentary portrait. At another crucial moment of painful introspection, he turns away from the camera: “I can’t do this,” he says, choked up about either his break-up with Lange or the regrets he has for leaving his family. We’ll never know which.

If Shepard is closed, Dark is open, and a far more eccentric and interesting character, with a penchant for marijuana, Jack Kerouac (whom he knew), care-giving and walking his dogs. But, alas, Shepard being the celebrity, viewers may leave the documentary wanting more.

Megan Scanlon, DOC NYC:
When it comes to writing, Johnny Dark likes to go off on a tangent, saying that “the tangent is sometimes more interesting than the body you started off with.” And so it is with "Shepard & Dark", a film that became director Treva Wurmfeld’s tangent to what was originally going to be a documentary about playwright and actor Sam Shepard. The film examines the nuanced relationship between Shepard and his longtime friend Dark, whose friendship formed back in the 1960s in Greenwich Village. Over the span of forty years, the two men wrote to each other about their “lives, fears, hopes, and problems in letters.”

Wurmfeld spent two years chronicling the friends as they pored through the old letters to compile them for a book about their exchanges. We learn that Shepard, self-described as a peripatetic and rootless in nature, prefers the power of photography over words. Yet, it’s the rehashing of these pages of letters, so carefully and lovingly organized by Dark, that seems to transport Shepard to a place of guilt and pain...

Tender in its delivery of the friends’ views on aging, truth, relationships, individuality, and coping mechanisms, "Shepard & Dark" shows the audience two diametrically opposed views of self-awareness. Shepard believes in destiny and fate, and says, “We have this illusion that we can change ourselves–it’s all horseshit. Nothing fundamental changes.” In contrast, Dark believes that “life can change with self-awareness.”

In the Q&A after the screening at the IFC Center, Dark was asked if his friendship with Shepard often changed throughout the years, to which he replied, “The friendship only changed once, and she filmed it.” The epiphanies revealed to Shepard and Dark as they reflected on their lives and perceptions resulted in a moving, bittersweet story - one that Dark told the audience he advised Shepard not to see.

Scott Macauley, Filmmaker Magazine:
In Treva Wurmfeld’s "Shepard & Dark", Shepard and his various well-crafted personas are engagingly captured in all their correspondences and contradictions. And, cleverly, Wurmfeld has managed to make a great Sam Shepard documentary by making it about something else entirely - namely, his 40-year, often epistolary friendship with Johnny Dark, a quiet writer and archivist who works days behind the counter at a Santa Fe deli.

While “bromance” may be a trendy term in today’s independent film world, there have been few good films, fiction or documentary, about male friendship. But that’s the theme that Wurmfeld says she was drawn to here. “Theirs is a friendship that comes through in letter form,” she says, “where the boundaries of ‘friend’ and ‘family’ are blurred - something that is a product of a romanticizing of what friendship is.”

Anna-Katrin Titze, Eye for Film:
When Johnny Dark and Sam Shepard met in New York in 1963, they began talking "as sons," right from the start. Shepard, who calls himself "rootless essentially," and has "done everything not to become my father," keeps writing about his father "endlessly."

The two men wrote letters for more than 40 years. "We complement each other," says Dark, who works behind the deli counter of a supermarket in Deming, New Mexico. "Self-contained - it's not a lifestyle, it's who he is," says Shepard, Pulitzer Prize winning playwright and Academy Award nominated actor, about his friend.

Why are these two men friends? What does friendship mean? Why do we have this illusion that we can change ourselves?

In Treva Wurmfeld's well-structured documentary, a complicated relationship is exposed through the juxtapositions of what is seen and heard, remembered and not remembered.

Rob Nelson, Variety:
The ups and downs of a decades-long friendship are charted with warmth and sensitivity in "Shepard & Dark," documentarian Treva Wurmfeld's intimate portrait of playwright-actor Sam Shepard and his far less accomplished buddy Johnny Dark. Spanning 18 months, the pic follows the pair as they sift through the reams of soul-baring correspondence that have passed between them and ponder how to package the letters in book form. Somewhat taking the place of that unrealized project, Wurmfeld's film subtly reveals the tensions that emerge between two kindred spirits with vastly different views of work.

Shepard devotees will naturally find the film essential, in part for its unstinting focus on the artist's early '80s decision to leave the surrogate family he had established with Dark in order to take up with Jessica Lange. At the same time, Wurmfeld is careful to locate the universal truths in the men's friendship and to engage even those who've never heard of Shepard. Among the picture's gently observed subjects is that of whether a couple's collective talent for disclosure and reflection inevitably threatens to turn toxic over the long haul.

Michelle Orange, Village Voice:
"Shepard & Dark" explores the bond between playwright Sam Shepard and his friend Johnyy Dark, forged in 1960s New York and still strong despite their radically divergent paths. Or at least it seems that way, until late in Treva Wurmfeld's thoughtfully observed portrait of a romantic friendship, when a collaborative project proves stressful, and the pair's complex alchemy falters.

Unseen Films blog:
The film follows the complex and unlikely friendship between Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright/actor Sam Shepard and close friend for nearly 50 years, Johnny Dark, a present day homebody, amateur archivist who works odd jobs and has a penchant for writing and getting stoned... The friendship gets put to the test after they decide to publish their letters and are presented the daunting task of sorting through endless pages of letters and photos while reliving and confronting the past.

The film is fun to watch because the director Wurmfeld has great subject matter to work with. Shepard speaks with a charming midwestern twang and despite his fame, lives like a cowboy with an old fashioned attitude toward women while struggling with the balance between solitude and companionship. Dark is a likeable character because he is genuine. He enjoys the writings of Kerouac and The Beat Generation, the companionship of his dogs and getting high on marijuana. Go see this film about a truly odd couple! It is a film that sheds light on the imperfections of humanity and friendship with an excellent Bob Dylan soundtrack to boot!

Drew Taylor, IndieWire:
The thorny dynamics of heterosexual male friendship is a fascinating black hole that few narrative films ever bother looking into. Instead, most choose to focus on simplistic, superficial social maneuvering (or the all-important bromance) without ever investigating the knotty emotional undercurrents that course through every lengthy male friendship. One of the chief pleasures of “Shepard & Dark,” which concerns the relationship between Sam Shepard and his buddy Johnny Dark, who now runs a deli counter at a New Mexico supermarket, is that you get to see all the wonderful, horrible, emotionally raw components that go into male friendship and how those can go from being solid building blocks to puddles of muck...

As Treva Wurmfeld’s documentary begins, the two are reuniting in an effort to consolidate the massive sprawl of correspondence for an art exhibit and a book (the book, now finished and handsomely reproduced, is also out and quite good). This is something of a big deal, not the least of which because Shepard has long refused to write an autobiography, so the book of letters would serve as an unparalleled look into his innermost thoughts and feelings (the juicier anecdotes, of course, relating to his tumultuous, longtime relationship with Jessica Lange).

When the movie starts, it’s very clear that these men are living two wildly different lives: Shepard you would recognize from seeing him in “The Right Stuff” or from attending one of his plays; Dark is slinging coleslaw down at the local food shopper. But as you watch Shepard go visit Dark at work, you can tell that there is a closeness, that these men aren’t all that different, especially when you watch Shepard on the phone explaining the project mostly as a way “to make some bread,” something that never seems to even occur to Dark (even though they’d both walk away with half a million dollars, and Dark could use this money a whole lot more than Shepard)...

Both men are fascinating, hangdog characters; each outlaws in their own way. Shepard would go on to produce plays of vitriolic outrage with deeply nuanced characters, while Dark - who, through the reading of his various letters, is often just as accomplished a writer as Shepard - would retreat inward, especially following his wife’s death. We watch as he lives his simple life, attended only by his dogs. At one point Shepard, in an interview, marvels at the level of hermetic loneliness Dark has accomplished, one without a single friend or acquaintance, and a lifestyle choice that ends up ultimately destroying their attempts at reconciling the material together.

There’s something both hilarious and sad about the men, and about their story, and about the way that they try to reconnect but can’t… quite… do it. There’s always been something romantic and powerful about relationships primarily built on letter-writing, and that’s true for Shepard and Dark too. Soon, though, the artistic ambitions of the project give way to petty jealousies and hurt feelings. The problem, of course, is that the movie lacks any kind of definitive resolution, and the filmmakers don’t exactly go out of their way to reassure the viewer that, yes, they did end up finishing the book and, yes, you can read it right now (it’s a corker). Instead, after all that effort being put into showing this relationship in its fullest terms, they allow the men to, true to their mythic southwestern surroundings, simply walk into the sunset, without so much as an envelope addressed “return to sender.”

Jackson Scarlett, SF Film Festival:
“I don't like knowing people.” Perched in front of a bookshelf, writer, archivist and habitual pot-smoker Johnny Dark delivers the first of many memorable lines in Treva Wurmfeld’s documentary "Shepard & Dark". Oddly, it’s almost easier to imagine the same words spoken by his close friend, Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright and actor Sam Shepard...

For men with such an avowed commitment to solitude, the bond between Shepard and Dark remains curiously strong; at nearly fifty years their friendship has outlasted movements, marriages and sometimes even memories. Shepard’s fear of flying, by now a handicap of mythological proportions, has begotten a lifestyle of roadside solitude, and Dark, now a grocery clerk, spends his time at home, building what he calls “books of people” - documentation of his epistolary relationships with friends seldom seen, Shepard amongst them.

A lull in Shepard's personal life prompts an offer to publish their correspondence as a book, and the two meet to begin editing, uncovering ancient camaraderie and old scars in equal measure. In a comfortable and unassuming style, Wurmfeld probes the intimate dimensions of their relationship as they work on the document that their differences may ultimately prohibit them from ever completing.

Jonathan Richards, Santa Fe New Mexican:
The most interesting documentaries are the ones that stray off course. Time is an ingredient, and during the time it takes for this filmmaker to follow her subjects and observe their interaction, a shift in their personal dynamic takes place. It’s the observer effect, which posits that the act of observation causes changes to the phenomenon being observed...

When the documentary first brings them together, the moments feel a bit stilted, but gradually we get more of a sense of the two as individuals and as friends. They read over passages of the correspondence, often roaring with a hilarity that doesn’t quite translate to the viewer. They reminisce about their fathers (anti-role models from whom they tried to distance themselves), about their years as a communal family, about roads taken and not taken. Dark comes to Santa Fe to work on editing the letters, but things don’t always go smoothly.

Mark Hinson, Tallahassee Democrat:
When director Treva Wurmfeld first introduces us to Shepard, it is 2010 and he is still smarting from his recent break up with Lange after more than 25 years together. The newly-single Shepard decides to distract himself with a literary venture that involves gathering several decades’ worth of correspondence with Black to compile into a book. The Pulitzer Prize-winning Shepard’s motives are mixed. Sure, it’s a gesture of kindness and a chance to help out an old friend, but it’s also an excuse for the notoriously unsentimental Shepard to take a journey through the past. It’s a nostalgia trip wrapped in the cloak of a writerly cause.

Dark is the polar opposite of Shepard’s taciturn Marlboro Man. The talkative, outgoing, pot-puffing Dark is a bit of a hoarder who lives in a modest house in Deming, N.M. He doesn’t watch TV, doesn’t follow popular culture and buries himself in books. For money, Dark works down the street in a deli, where most of the customers speak Spanish. Remember, this is a guy who still writes letters in longhand and sends them through the snail mail of the U.S. Post Office.

The two first get together to go over material at a local Denny’s restaurant and pick up their friendship where it last left off. They joke, compare notes, sing lyrics by Bob Dylan and kid each other. You know, the way old friends like to do. As the project progresses, though, the letters dredge up old memories that are not so pleasant... Shepard’s booze-swilling dad, who was not exactly big on affection, is never too far away from the surface. It quickly becomes apparent that Shepard does not have a strong relationship with his first-born son, Jesse Mojo Shepard, either. The mistakes of the past keep repeating themselves.

Shepard does not try to stage-direct Wurmfeld or nudge her into painting him in a better light. He’s a crusty, sharp-tongued, self-centered loner. You have to give him credit for having the guts to reveal his true self in front of camera. And that is truly rare for someone from the theater world.

David Fear, Time Out:
One is a bold playwright and actor whose work mined the existential restlessness of the American mind-set; the other is a go-with-the-flow everydude who now works at a grocery store. But regardless of their different paths in life, Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark have remained best buddies since they met in Greenwich Village in the early ’60s, their lives intertwined over the decades through interfamilial marriages and endless reams of eloquent correspondence. Treva Wurmfeld’s tender, extraordinary documentary starts with the duo sifting through boxes of old letters, photos, etc., an excavation that eventually causes friction between the old pals. But the more "Shepard & Dark" rewinds through their shared history, the more the film blossoms into something far richer than a simple tribute to a long, beautiful friendship - it becomes an ode to a long-lost era of bohemia, an insightful look into male psychology and pathology, a valentine to the art of letter writing and an illustration of how the past is never dead, because it’s not even past.