These are my notes for the long introduction to my debut screening on November 28th, 2017
Thank you for being here tonight-
Thank you to KBOO radio for being a sponsor of this screening
Some of you have been coming to this series for three years, and some of you attend death cafes, some of you facilitate death cafes or work in hospice, others do end of life social work, and grief counseling,. To you- I am especially grateful. You are my teachers . I eventually learned that you are not my niche audience. My film is more like Death 101- hopefully good for getting conversations started. I honor the work you do, and thank you for your kindness and dedication.
Even though I'm not an expert, either as a filmmaker or end of life counselor, somehow this film chose ME to make it- so I did.
I've been saying that my film is about coming to terms with mortality, but truth is, that still baffles me. We will each do that in our own way. So what I'm sharing is a personal story with small bits of wisdom that I've accumulated by paying attention to the lessons of death and life.
I'm grateful that my first audience is you, a roomful of my friends.
When the film is over, you are all invited to stay for a discussion that Holly Pruett will facilitate. Holly has facilitated most of our post-movie discussions. She has a wealth of experience as a group facilitator and life cycle celebrant. During a Q & A, my mom who is in the film, is here. And the composer Cal Scott is here. We will all answer questions. The discussion isn't mandatory. Also, we've handed out a questionnaire. PLEASE fill it out when the movie ends. The film is only 45 minutes. The discussion will last between 10 to 30 minutes. My introduction will last about an hour...
You know how books have acknowledgments at the beginning? And films have credits at the end? Well I have an accumulation of gratitude that I want to express before we show the video.
I 'm going to share some of the history of making it as a means of THANKING people who helped me along the way. When I mention your name, will you please you will indulge me by standing up briefly?
I started working on this film in 2012- 5 years ago. Wendy Russell (stand- up) and I made a film about music-thanatology, (playing music at the bedside of people who are dying- It starred her husband, Michael Sasnow, a music thanatologist, ( stand up), and our friend Britta Dedrick. Wendy and I were working together on Holy Rascals, making media about inter-spirituality- and when our short film was done, we looked at each other and said I want to know about death and dying. We were curious. So essentially Living While Dying arose from that curiosity.
The story of what happens next get told in the film. I'm telling more about all of the helpers along the way. Wendy and I kept Holy Rascals going for another year and a half, producing radio shows, online webinars, and a Holy Rascal Revival. I did filming in my spare time, and during trips that Edis and I took. If you don't know me, Edis Jurcys is my husband and a talented cameraman who shot much of the video. He has been amazingly helpful all along the way.
In those months I began to say that filmmaking was my expensive hobby. I was earning a living then and now as a massage therapist.
Two years in, I called my cousin Abby Ginzberg, a successful documentary filmmaker. I described what I was up to, and she understood my quest, and gave me a significant contribution for the film. At that time, I was grappling with finding a story – some kind of container for the documentary footage. Batya Podos and Deborah Zaslow provided me with folk tales about death. I chose one, “Death in a Nutshell.” Cassandra Sagan suggested that I change the little boy into a little girl in story because I was applying for a Women in Film Grant. So there I was, two years in, having an AHA moment- realizing that I'd chosen to tell a story about a little girl who doesn't want to lose her mom, and that little girl was me. Some of you may have seen my first trailer, which was skillfully crafted by Emily Von Gilbert.
By then I'd met Holly Pruett, who was and still is the organizer of local death cafes, and a life cycle celebrant, and founder of the Death Talk Project which stimulates useful, honest conversation about how we die, how we mourn, and how we care for and remember our dead. Holly and I decided to co-host this movie series - Death Talk Goes to the Movies. Which we could only do because Lani Jo Leigh the owner of this theater, supported our efforts. Lani Jo is amazing and provides this theater to many groups, and causes and indie films . Please support her theater. Now is probably a good time to thank Lynn Taylor for coming with me to these movies once a month for three years.
At a tango class, someone gave me tickets to hear Ira Glass tell stories with choreographed dancers on stage. I've always wanted to film dance. So I decided to use dance for the dramatic parts of what was then my story. I met Estelle Oliveras at a different tango class. She agreed to be the choreographer.
Around that same time, I engaged Jane Turville for grant-writing assistance.
I also signed up for a class to change my relationship to money. My study partner, Sharon Woodard listened as I struggled through the insecurities of fundraising. Sometimes when people ask me why it took me 5 years to make my film, I say I spent a great deal of time avoiding fundraising- To raise money for a film you have to know your audience, and while attempting to define it, I briefly got help from Cora Palazzolo .
Holly introduced me to a wonderful nurse, Susan Schoenbeck who was encouraging about the path I was on. I reconnected with Linda Freedman, a friend from P'nai Or, my Jewish community. I shot bits for her documentary about Pigs and Fords, and she gave me discounts for transcribing all my interviews. That year, I met Peter Quince, a writer who was willing to shape a narrative that more closely resembles what ends up in the film. Another cousin, Peggy Eurman familiar with death in our family and her family medical practice, offered support. And Luisa Zini introduced me to Ernest Becker's book, The Denial of Death.
That year, Rabbi Deborah Kolodney who a year earlier was an empowering mentor when I was led my first funeral, hired me produce a short film about LGBTQ clergy, which Lucia DeLisa edited. Lucia has been an amazing support through numerous projects, hers and mine, including a music video that I thought was going to part of this film, called Next Time Around.
Finally, two years ago I signed up for a program called “Finish your Film in a Year”. That's what put momentum into post production. I had to look at the 30 hours of footage that we'd shot and choose only 10 to send to Todd Dayton, the editor I'd chosen to work with. (Todd can't stand up because he lives in California) I let go of the folk tale and the dances, and decided to use animation for some bits of narration. The illustrator and animator are brilliant, but also cannot stand up because they live in Canada. By April of 2016 I had a story and a rough cut. But no money for finishing.
That's when Candle Summers and Bill Ernst stepped in and organized an amazing tango fundraiser in at Rachel Lidskog-Lim's dance studio. Perhaps all the tango dancers and other friends who attended the event who donated at that time could stand? Out of that Chris Wenham volunteered to help me raise money, do outreach, and be a regular steady associate.
Then I got to produce a book video for Margaret Davis's Book China Under the Covers- which provided funds for the film. Around that time I met Lisa Bordner, an EOL educator who offered her notes on crowd-funding.
We all remember freaking out in November 2016 after the election. After being focused on politics I turned back to this film project. Lee Sailor introduced me to his childhood friend, David Poulshouck. I raised my daughter watching David's Wee Sing videos. David is super talented, and generous. He wrote and directed and edited the trailer – the one with me walking in a hallway, which was in Lisa Lieberman's house. Lisa by the way, has been networking on my behalf all along. David connected me to Jess Columbo who was my primary consultant and guide for launching the crowd-funding campaign. If you gave to that, please stand. Met Kia Gareths who guided me on how to re-make my website. Which Marc Polonsky helped me edit.
All along, my mom, Jonnie Zheutlin was my biggest supporter, emotionally, spiritually, financially,and she helped organize another fundraising event in Ashland.
Then I took a Conversation Project class at Havurah with Keren McCord and Sydney Gold, and they are going to sponsor a showing of this film next March.
The crowdfunding raised enough money to do a final cut, and hire a composer. I hired Cal Scott another generous talented collaborator- who wrote all the music except for one tango that Alex Krebs allowed me to use. He can't be here because he teaches tango on tuesdays.
But it wasn't fully funded, and my friend Yehudah Winter decided to buy a bunch of massages all at once so that I'd have money to spend on my film.
The last person to add finishing touches is Rob Anderson the colorist. Rob is great. He explains lots of technical things to me about deliverables.
And tonight either Jeremy or Lani Jo is in the projection booth.
So as you can see I didn't do this alone. This would be a good time for everyone who i've mentioned to stand and be applauded.
I'm ever so grateful to have had so much help along the way- and that so many friends are here tonight. There is a list of donors on the website. I hope I haven't forgotten to thank someone . Please forgive me if I did.
Now I'd like to circle back to what I said in the beginning. Other people have been in the field of changing our cultural stories about death, and planning for the end of life much longer than me. They have information and skills and resources, etc. They are a big hearted group of people . Found my people in EOL edu --Some of them are here.
I'd like for them to introduce themselves after the movie. I walk in their footsteps. I honor their wisdom and the work they do.
And there is one last group of people I want to thank- people who allowed me to film them. Some are in the video. Some are in outtakes.
For Don's story I filmed Mary Ruskusky, his kids, Lee and Ruthe Offill, and his brother Bill Offill, and a bunch of tango dancers.
For Clair's story I filmed my mom and his relatives and friends.
For AvYitz's story I filmed Stephanie Nead, Harriet Cooke, and Beth and Dov and Elisha Hirschfield and lots of friends.
For Azul's story I filmed Misty, and Wendy, and Adrienne Clare gave me permission to use one cutaway of her.
Of course I'm full of gratitude for the angel presences of my friends who died; Clair, AvYitz, Azul and Don, and many others not in the film.
Getting the film done has essentially been about going through open doors, and following up with connections..The next steps require more of the same, so do please fill out the questionnaires.
PS- You all know it's a movie about death. I thought about calling it "Four Funerals No Wedding". For people who are dying ( all of us), it is a compassionate invitation to trust one’s inner self and live with more awareness.