"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.
Amy has been filming at Strathcarron 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...
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?
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?"
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.
I am currently film-maker in residence in Strathcarron Hospice. It is an amazing place. This area is not wealthy, but the local community go out and raise huge amounts of money so they can care for their elderly and for those who are terminally ill. It’s close to Glasgow, and maybe that’s where the humour comes from! And oh wow, can these folk sing! And last week we started dancing, bringing in choregrapher Malcolm Shields (previous life as dancer with Scottish National Ballet), and we filmed dancing dinnerladies as they served puddings on the ward, and then daycare patients discoing to Iain’s amazing DJ set. Iain was signed up by EMI aged 15. He had not DJ’d since he got ill, but last Friday he showed he can still set the room on fire!
The hospice is surprising on so many levels – over 40% of their patients go home. I wish people didn’t have a shudder of fear when they hear the word ‘hospice’ – I know I always thought it was a death warrant. But it is the opposite. I love their motto: more life in your days!
Strathcarron Hospice cares for people with illnesses that cannot be cured including cancer, respiratory and heart conditions and neurological diseases. They are a charity providing free specialist palliative care to people in NHS Forth Valley, and to Cumbernauld and Kilsyth in NHS Lanarkshire.
They work wherever it is needed. This may be within the hospice in Denny, but also in patients’ homes, in the local hospital Forth Valley Royal Hospital, in care homes and community hospital settings. Care is also extended to families and carers. To keep delivering care to those that need it the most, Strathcarron has to raise around £3.5 million each year.
Most of their patients remain at home and they offer a full range of community services and Day Hospice activities, not just care for inpatients. Over 40% of patients go home from the Hospice having had help with their symptoms. They don't just care for patients with cancer – about 20% of patients have other life limiting conditions.
Hospice is not a place, it is a philosophy of care that values each individual and helps them put life into their days rather than days onto their lives. They care for families, not just patients and this care does not end when the patient has died - bereavement support is available for families. Strathcarron Hospice enhances the quality of life and dignity in death.
I got up at 6.30 a.m. this morning to get to Strathcarron Hospice to show four of the very experienced nursing staff the film TUESDAYS we have made with the Maggie's Centre in Dundee. On the road by 7.20 a.m.… Brain into gear at one minute to 9. It was the first showing of the final version of the film. There was total silence from the four nurses as the women on the screen took us through their lives.
“Well that’s not what you read in the text-books,” was the first response. “You know what these women have done?” – I steeled myself.
“They’ve put it into words – the confusion, the thoughts, all the different emotions that people want to and can’t say. It’s not sad. Not sad at all. It's what we see on the ward...it's the black humour...the friendship....it's beautiful and true and doctors and nurses need to see this film. ”
I believe her. Not only because she is a consummate professional, but also because I have watched this gorgeous woman sing and dance her patients into well-being at Strathcarron Hospice. And I keep filming it.
The film about the Maggie's Centre is with the sound designer Marcelo de Oliveiri right now, and will have its premiere in Dundee on Wednesday 4th April, when the amazing women in the film will be there to talk to the audience. Tickets are free but limited: RSVP here.
Happy New Year everyone. Right now, I am spending every day filming either in a hospice, or in the Maggie's Centre, or with a group of doctors. That's a lot of mortality, a lot of death, that I see every week.
And this is my present to myself, my coping strategy – a tiny(ish) furry red bundle of optimism called Mitsuki, a foal, who loves more than anything to be scratched. Here he is, exploring snow and my husband with snowshovel for the first time. All best wishes for 2012!