“Death – can’t live with it, can’t live without it...”

...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.”

Delegates and presenters together

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.

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TUESDAYS in London - reflections on a screening

Rachel, Kathleen and Arlene arrive in LondonWhat 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.

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'Wouldn't it be lovely?' – a toast to Ruth Cave, and on air on Radio Scotland

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.

Ruth Cave

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Five Questions to Amy

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?

Amylaughing2_sm.jpgAmy: 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.

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In Fiction the Director is God.
In Documentary, God is the Director.

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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?"

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Rent or download THE EDGE OF DREAMING
(UK and Ireland only)

In the UK and Ireland, you can now watch Amy's film THE EDGE OF DREAMING online or download it to your computer.

In the Distrify player below, choose between the streaming rental for £2.99 and the download-to-own for £4.99.

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Thoughts on TUESDAYS

"The one thing we have in common is that we are going to die. We don’t know when we’re going to die, but we are going to die." – Karen O'Shaughnessy

The thought of our own mortality is deeply uncomfortable. But for members of the Tuesday meetings at the Maggie Centre in Dundee, it is a pressing eventuality.

Judy and her daughter

Amy Hardie's documentary TUESDAYS follows the group’s five attendees as they come to terms with their diagnosis of incurable cancer and the prospect of their own imminent deaths. It is something that both terrifies and intrigues them.

"For me, [joining the group] was to see what it was like to die from cancer," admits Ruth Cave, who was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer in 2004.

Death is the uniting factor – the women are drawn together from different backgrounds and beliefs by their own impending mortality. The group reflects this, having shrunk from eight to five within just a year, and protagonists speak frequently and candidly about preparing themselves and their families for death. How does one come to terms with the reality of leaving children and life behind forever?

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Pictures from the Premiere

Here are some pictures taken by Emma Bestall at last week's premiere of TUESDAYS, Amy's new film about a group of women with advanced cancer who meet at the Maggie's Centre in Dundee. Article to follow. 

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Ruth Cave and Karen O'Shanghnessy.

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Science documentary directed by Amy wins festival in Milan

Stem Cell RevolutionsAs you may know from watching THE EDGE OF DREAMING, Amy has been involved in a number of science documentaries.

Given she is probably too modest to mention this, I'll break the news here: STEM CELL REVOLUTIONS, a film made by Amy in close collaboration with scientist Clare Blackburn, just won the Vedere La Scienza Fesival in Milan, Italy. 

You can read the jury's statement on the film's website. This documentary will soon be released online and on DVD. You can sign up to get notified.

Congratulations to Amy and Clare, and also to Cameron who made the beautiful animations!

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Keep singing

So reality is hitting in hard this week. Tosh O'Donnell is the amazing singer who keeps me entertained in the hospice with stories of growing up in Glasgow:

"See, we knew we were gaeing up in the world when we moved into a new place – it had an outside loo that LOCKED!"  

And then made me weak at the knees with his amazing singing voice.  His version of Strangers in the Night was my favourite, ever. But this week I was told he had died, suddenly and at home.

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