Love and death, at first glance, seem opposed to one another, whereas in fact, death can illuminate love and love can transform a death. Can you comment on this statement from your experience making your films?
From the experience that making my films has afforded me, I completely agree with the contention that death illuminates love. Birth and death are the definitive expressions of life, and it is through the experience of these highly charged moments that we can appreciate the existence of love.
Witnessing Yolngu Aboriginal funerals has taught me a great deal about the relationship between death, love and the biosphere that nourishes us. These ceremonies can last two weeks or more, and they are occasions of mourning and celebration made manifest in stories that are sung, danced and painted. Perhaps the Middle English etymologies of the modern word ‘love’ – loven, lovien, from the Old English ‘lofian’ with its meanings relating to ‘praise’ and ‘exaltation’ – come closest to the expression of ‘love’ in Yolngu ceremony. The ceremonial marking of death as a chance to reacquaint oneself in relation to others, and to appreciate and reflect on other presences – animate, inanimate and spiritual – I think can have a transformative capacity.
In the sense that we – as humans – are always grappling with creating ‘meaning’ from events, the mystery of death provides a unique problem. This problem has been compounded in recent times by the increasingly efficient way that ‘death industries’ have hidden the process of dying behind literal and metaphorical curtains. We fear what we least know, and as someone who was very frightened of death I can completely understand how this fear has led many of us to develop an immortality complex and deny the presence of death altogether.
So, in regard to this fear, making my films has forced me to confront death in a very healthy way. Filming people being born and filming people die in Love in Our Own Time has strengthened what I learnt from witnessing Yolngu death rituals. Watching people die, and witnessing the process of human death, has made me reflect on the idea that our lives are defined by our capacity to connect with others and to connect with the world around us. Maybe this is what you mean by ‘love can transform a death’?
You said in your interview with ehospice Australia, that making this film you were “struck by the incredibly finite time we have between life and death.” Could you expand on what you meant by this?
Yes, perhaps the making of this film offered me the reflective space to conceive of the idea of a ‘lifetime’ in a less abstract way than I had done previously. Or perhaps it was just the dawning of my own age! A lifetime from the perspective of a teenager stretches endlessly ahead, but from the vantage of middle-age (I turned 40 during the making of the film) it suddenly seems much more finite. This feeling is compounded when we see people like John Walker (a newly retired refrigeration mechanic who dies in the film) facing an abrupt end to a life he’d presumed would last many decades more.
In what ways that you are aware of has the film been used since its release? Did you expect this or were you surprised?
The film has found many homes that have surprised me. It has been picked up by community groups interested in promoting awareness about end of life issues, and has been used as a training and reflective tool in bereavement, palliative care, psychology, psychiatry, and in a number of other fields that I had never envisaged. I think the fact that there are not a lot of resources out there that offer audiences a vision of death that is framed in a non-medical context – indeed that is framed in the context of ‘love’, has opened the work up to a range of readings and therefore a lot of different viewing constituencies.
How did you feel being granted access to these extremely intimate moments in people’s and families’ lives?
It was a great privilege to be granted these experiences of witness. At times I felt awed by the trust I was offered, and I hoped that I could repay that trust through my representation of these intimacies in the finished film. Thankfully the people shown in the film have expressed their happiness in the film as a dignified representation of what they and their loved ones experienced.
Based on your experience, could you describe your idea of a ‘good death’?
I think a ‘good death’ takes many different forms depending on the needs and personalities of those most connected to the death. For me personally, I hope that any experience of death in which I am intimately involved offers the possibility of grace – a sense and appreciation of love and connection.
Why was it important for you to make this film at this time? Did your reasons or focus change during the process?
I am still not sure why I made this film when I did. It was inspired by my own fear of death as much as by my experience of working in cultures that celebrate death in ways different to my own community (in Anglo-Sydney, Australia). I’m glad I made it though. I think that I have a deeper appreciation of death now, and this has offered me a richer and more humble context for living.
For more information about the film, please visit the website: loveinourowntime.com
The DVD is available for purchase online (flat postage rate for international shipping)
For all other queries, please contact Chloe at: email@example.com