The great film director Ingmar Bergman once said, “No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls.” He reminds us that movies are a powerful medium for providing education and inspiration to the masses and even for promoting new ideas in society.
For those of us who are working to change the way our communities approach death and dying, films can be a helpful tool for overcoming fear and shifting the public mindset about end-of-life issues. Fortunately there are dozens of excellent documentaries and feature films available now that can serve as the perfect catalyst for deep conversations about society’s most feared topic.
If you would like to create a film series in your community about death-related subjects, here are some tips for getting started
Define your target audience
As you begin to plan your series it is important that you know who you want to reach and how many people you would like to serve. These factors will influence most of the other decisions you will make in the planning process. For example, if you have a small group of friends you would like to include, you can hold your screenings in private homes and simply show DVD’s on large-screen televisions. But if you would like to host a much larger event that is open to the community you will need a larger venue and a more sophisticated projection system.
To host a community-wide event it can be helpful to gather support from local organizations like hospices, funeral homes, green cemeteries, hospitals, long-term care facilities, Threshold Choir, death doulas, and any other group that has an interest in end-of-life issues. Your partners can help you by promoting the event to their email lists, making a cash donation, providing speakers, or even furnishing the venue for you series. Collaboration is good for every community so it’s worthwhile to spend some time getting other groups interested in your event
Locate a venue
If your anticipated audience is small enough you may be able to screen films in a private home that has a reliable DVD/television set up with a large screen. But for larger groups you will need a space that has a screen and projection equipment available. A local theater would be perfect if it is open to such an event, but you could also try your library, community college, senior center, hospital, community center, or hotel, though you may have to pay for the use of the space if you can’t find a partner to offer it at no charge.
Decide what to charge
You may need to sell tickets to your event to cover the expenses. Create a budget and decide on a reasonable charge that will work for your community. You will need a system for selling tickets and collecting money in advance and at the door. Also you could make it a free event and ask for donations, but you run the risk of losing money in that case.
Create a schedule
Decide whether or not to offer a discussion or presentation after the film screening. This is recommended since it will allow the audience an opportunity to process the information they’ve just taken in and ask questions. Consider having a brief break between the film and the discussion and possibly offering some refreshments, though that will add to the expense of your event. Also choose the best day and time for your screening, based on needs of your community.
Choose your film(s)
Whether the film screening is a one-time event or a monthly offering it is important that you choose the best films for your audience that meet your goals for this project. You can simply purchase DVD’s of feature films and documentaries and show them on a television screen for small audiences in your own home. Or for larger community audiences you will need to obtain a license for showing the film (many of the documentaries listed offer this option).
Here are a few films to consider: (find a complete list at this link)
Keep in mind that these feature films are all fictional stories that can be very compelling and cathartic. Some of them contain humor and may be more comfortable for an audience not quite ready to dive deeply into the subject of death. You can read more detailed reviews of each of these movies by clicking on the title.
• My Life
These films deal much more directly with the subject of death and dying and can be great conversation starters. Your audience should be prepared to see images of dying people, dead bodies, coffins and funerals.
• Death: A Love Story
• Death Makes Life Possible
• A Will for the Woods
• Love in Our Own Time (includes a helpful Screening Kit to guide you)
• Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall
As you can see there is no shortage of films to choose from! If you intend to have a monthly film series you might want to plan several months in advance and offer a variety of films that touch on different end-of-life subjects.
Promote your event
This is where partners can be helpful in getting the word out to you community. Ask them to send information to their email lists and post the event on their social media sites. Create an event on Facebook and invite people to share it with others. Also get free publicity through public service announcements on local radio and TV stations and community notes in your local newspaper. Create flyers and post them in high-visibility areas of your community.
Using these suggestions you’ll be off to a good start toward creating an end-of-life film series for your community. Remember that any step you take to encourage conversations about death and dying will be helpful in the movement to improve care of the dying in our society.
Click here to read more about using films to stimulate discussion.
Good luck with your event!
About the Author:
Karen Wyatt, MD is a family physician who has spent much of her 25 year career as a hospice medical director, caring for dying patients in their homes. The author of What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying and The Tao of Death, Dr. Wyatt has lectured and written extensively on end-of-life issues with an emphasis on the spiritual aspect of illness and dying.