A first glimpse at Amy Hardie's upcoming film was offered last week at a palliative care conference.
Dr Erna Haraldsdottir who is Head of Education at Strathcarron Hospice shares what happened:
"In 2010 I made a funding application to Creative Scotland to bring a non healthcare professional into the hospice where I am Head of Education. We hoped to find an alternative way of working with patients that would complement the medical and nursing model of delivering palliative care. That funding bid succeeded, and we welcomed Amy Hardie as a documentary film director into the hospice in 2011.
Last week I took parts of the resulting film-in-progress and evaluation studies to the Help the Hospices conference in Bournemouth – this is the UK's biggest forum to discuss palliative care issues within the hospice setting. I had no idea what to expect – this was the first time for me to present work through film in a professional health setting.
"I am glad that our family can be seen today as a four-legged table." These were the words of Gwen Hardie for the opening night of Skin Over Bone, an exhibition celebrating the work of James, Gwen and Amy Hardie. Despite being united by their family connection, the three artists are showing very different works of art. Visitors could also admire the beautiful sculptures of Ann Hardie, beloved wife and mother, who died in 1999. "It is the first time our works are shown together," Gwen pointed out.
As part of DaDaFest in Liverpool, this seminar stimulated discussion about the impact of changes on peoples’ day-to-day lives so that the lived experience of life-limiting illness and related phenomena is not always one of loss.
The video below shows some of the discussions and performances that happened during the day. Amy is in there talking about her Strathcarron Hospice project, from around 12 minutes into the video.
Amy has been filming atStrathcarron Hospice for 16 months now. As an intern at the Scottish Documentary Institute, I got the privilege to assist her in her work. As I am slowly discovering the way she works, I am also learning about this place, the patients, and their relationship to Amy’s film.
Amy seems to know every part of this labyrinthine place, full of stairs and doors. The patients and staff greet her with a great smile and some kind words every morning: she is not just a 'filmmaker in residence', as the sign on her tiny office’s door says; she is also part of this place now. "People like Amy have to read other people", says Ian, one of the patients. "She comes in here, she wants to film people, she’s got to look at those people and say okay, right, what can I do with that person?"With some time and dedication, Amy built what the patients here call a "two-way relationship": by showing them the footage and some edited sequences, she is able to get them involved in the whole process of filmmaking.
Last week I held up a tiny cheap plastic camcorder in front of some very distinguished people. We were at Strathcarron Hospice AGM. I have been looking for a camera that patients and staff in Strathcarron Hospice can use to make films, without any special training, and that is super-easy to set up and to edit with. It also needs to reproduce the full dynamic range of the human voice without a fiddly microphone. It’s a big ask.
Patients are using the cameras in the hospice to make their own films. Last night I showed the film made by a young woman and her daughter. The woman has secondary cancer, but it doesn’t stop her amazing dance moves. They chose to film themselves dancing in every sort of location – in a zoo, in a fair, in the livingroom, on the lawn. In years to come, the daughter will be able to look at the film and remember how her mum loved to dance with her...
...a nice way to set out the paradoxes facing the inaugural Thinking About Dying? research workshop hosted by Professor Gillian Howie at Liverpool University. Contributions from Buddhist and Hindu theology, from humanism, from philosophers and clinical psychologists sparked off debates about the medical modeling of death and physical crises. It was an Isak Dinesen quote that prompted us to look at how we make meaning of suffering, and even death:
“All human sorrows can be bourne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them.”
Beverly Clack, Labour counsellor and professor at Oxford Brookes University pointed out that it might not be easy to tell these stories just now. The current culture in the UK and the US is aspirational, making us highly motivated to be a success. ‘Just do it!’ And success comes defined right down to the shape of our bellies, the logos on our clothes, the food we eat, our postcodes. It invades every aspect of our lives – we should have partners, good-looking partners, actually, and children. In fact the children need to be beautiful too, and successful themselves… etc etc. To miss out on any of these goods is seen as an aberration and, horrifyingly, failure.
What does it mean to use the camera as a mirror? To make palliative film? Palliative comes from the word palliare, to cloak, comfort, hide. I guess it refers to the symptoms that palliative care aims to cloak, comfort, hide. But the camera is doing the opposite. It is offering a reflection, aims for lucidity, intensification, the underlying structure of an event, an idea, a life, made visible.
Showing the TUESDAYS film two weeks ago in front of a London audience and the women in the film meant laying ourselves open. The women in the film, who had allowed me to show them crying and laughing, expressed their fears and their anger, dreams and joys. And myself, who had taken on the responsibility to make a film that remained a genuine representation of who they are, and what they are going through, whilst distilling down the experiences of five people over a year to 42 minutes. You can’t help but gulp.
Ruth Cave died last Sunday. I filmed Ruth as part of the TUESDAYS film, at the Maggie’s Centre. I keep thinking about her. I am making a DVD for the family of all the footage Ruth and I shot together – at home with the girls in the garden, cooking in the kitchen, walking on the huge beach at Monifieth. Ruth grins at me from the computer, arguing, telling stories, questioning me, telling me what to do with the film. Vibrant, alive.
Emma: Amy, you are fascinated with death. In your press kit for THE EDGE OF DREAMING you speak about how it started with the death of your mother and then continued when you had to face the possibility of your own death, as portrayed in 'Dreaming'. In the process of making these films you have researched death extensively and are now developing a new documentary to be set in a hospice.
What motivates your fascination with death? Are there specific answers that you are looking for, and are these answers about dying or about living?
Amy: Bertold Brecht said we need, as individuals, to learn about dying. Montaigne wrote his essays (and coined the term, essay) as writings grappling with his own death. Our consciousness is enormous, and expands out of time. But it is housed in this frail, time-limited body. How we can we not wrestle with these paradoxes?
Did you learn anything new about living and dying, or living with the prospect of dying, through your engagement with the Maggie's Centre and the film TUESDAYS?
Amy: Life becomes more precious to me. I have begun to believe that our greatest attribute as human beings is our capacity for appreciation. The filming is evolving to act as a mirror to people at a very tender point in their lives. They connect powerfully to each other, to their families, to the world around them. I, and my camera, am caught up and held in their connections.
I’m at SOURCES 2 screenwriting workshop near Stuttgart. Eight days immersion with a group of Finns, Russians, Germans, Spanish, Austrians, Iranians, Irish, Swedish, a Norwegian… Coming from the Scottish Documentary Institute and supported by Creative Scotland, Sonja Henrici and I are the only filmmakers from Britain.
I am here because I feel quite overwhelmed by my experiences at Strathcarron Hospice, and want to make the very best film I can. As filmmaker in residence, I have already filmed with patients, and discovered the amazing singing talents. With great pride I showed my sample five minutes. "Ah yes," said Arash Riahi, the outrageously successful tutor. "You love your characters and you want to show them to the audience straight away. It is sweet. Or do you want to make a film?"