Seven Songs for a Long Life
STOP PRESS: 'Seven Songs' can be booked for FREE community screenings throughout all of Dying Matters Awareness Week. Visit www.sevensongsfilm.com/dyingmattersweek for details.
Over the last four years, filmmaker Amy Hardie has been visiting Strathcarron Hospice in Scotland. The result is a feature length documentary, 'Seven Films for a Long Life', which shows how even in the most painful of circumstances, communities can come together to face mortality. The film is now being used as part of a UK-wide campaign to encourage the general public to talk more openly and confidently about the process of dying.
Produced by the Scottish Documentary Institute, 'Seven Films for a Long Life' will be launched during Hospice Care Week, 5-11 October 2016, after its world premiere in Stirling on 2 October. The film will be screened in cinemas, but most importantly is available to hospices, palliative care organisations, carers and community groups - anyone who has an interest in engaging in or facilitating openness around death and dying.
The documentary will be followed by an educational package of shorter clips and a toolkit for teaching, and it’s available for screenings right up to and including Dying Matters Awareness Week, 9-15 May 2016.
Here, Amy Hardie shares her thoughts on the process of filming in a hospice.
I came to Strathcarron with strict instructions: hang around. Being an artist in a medical establishment, you get good at hanging around. Feeling useless becomes your evolving art form. Finally the patients took pity on me. Maybe they were feeling a bit useless too. Disease can do that. Then they started singing to the camera. I loved it. Myself, I was banned from the singing circle right at nursery. But the songs that came from the patients at Strathcarron were so full of passion, dreams, anger, regret, acceptance - I felt it was their whole lives tunneling into the camera microphone.
We started making little music films together, three minutes, five minutes, interspersing the song with observational footage of their time in the hospice and at home. The requests came in thick and fast and I learnt an interesting thing: when you’ve been told you have a disease that is going to kill you, you don’t waste time. And you want pleasure. To receive it and to give it.
Time is one of the greatest gifts someone can give you
Time is one of the greatest gifts someone can give you. When you sit with someone you are giving them your time. I spent four years filming in Strathcarron, listening, watching, and taking up time from the patients and the staff. Sometimes there was a sense of urgency – if someone is in pain then each second of pain is a second too long. Sometimes time looped back on itself and the songs transported us back into someone’s childhood, or their first love, or the moment they lost their spouse. Julie, one of the patients who had been told she had months to live, lived firmly in the moment. As the moments stretched into months, and then years, she had a rethink. She dyed her hair blonde and went back to work, fell in love, got married. Is she scared of dying? Not any more; she is ready. How long is a good marriage? How long is a long life? As Dorene says after her successful stem cell treatment: “This stem cell treatment has given me five years – and five years is a long time.”
Laughter, tears, cake and comedy
I brought in a music facilitator for the last year of filming. It created a fantastic buzz as the patients and staff heard themselves reach new levels of power in their songs. It was Hilary Brook’s first time in a hospice, and, like me, she was apprehensive before she arrived. Once she had met the patients and staff, however, we embarked on a shared journey that included laughter, tears, cake and comedy. The patients grew to have absolute trust that Hilary would help them find their best voice. I love it that Nicola changed the last word of the last chorus in the film – it is a confident expression of who she is, and what is happening to her: she ends the film with an invitation to the audience to “dream a little dream for me.” It makes me cry.
These are extraordinary moments, or maybe they are ordinary moments. Ordinary, everyday heroes. That’s as true for the staff as for the patients. It was a privilege to be allowed to ‘hang out’ for four years. There is a lovely story told that I think sums up the interplay of observational life and song in this film: Fionn mac Cumhail, the legendary Irish chieftain, asked his warriors to tell him what sound they thought was the best music. They came up with many examples but he kept shaking his head. Then he told them: "The music of what happens: that is the sweetest music in the world.”
Screen Seven Films for a Long Life
To find out more, to book the film for a screening or to ask for a preview 'screener', please contact Rebecca Day at the Scottish Documentary Institute: email@example.com | 0131 651 5872 or visit www.sevensongsfilm.com.
To celebrate music and its ability to connect people, the Scottish Documentary Institute is also launching an online campaign called #MyLastSong. Modelled on the hugely successful Ice Bucket Challenge, they encourage you to SING! It’s designed to welcome those who prefer not to think about death and dying and to bring a lighter tone to a subject we all struggle with.
Do you have a favourite song you hum to yourself? Perhaps you are the next Charlotte Church or Ariana Grande? The song can be one that means a lot to you, summing up you and your life, or you can dedicate it to someone special. Join the #MyLastSong campaign by sharing your special song on social media - don't forget to include the hashtag #MyLastSong.