When the Alliance for Living and Dying Well, in partnership with the Unitarian Society, kicked off its four-week film festival on Friday, there were sniffles heard around the room. Nearly 100 moviegoers showed up for this free film series that explores the impact of loss, aging and mortality as well as the celebration of life.
“If we live our lives with greater awareness of our eventual mortality, then perhaps we may live more fully,” noted Susan Plummer, Ph.D., director of the Alliance for Living and Dying Well. “The alliance is interested in introducing opportunities to our community to talk about death because this is not a topic that we usually discuss.”
The ALDW promotes conversations about end-of-life issues, helping families navigate this challenging terrain with informed discussions, advanced care directives and professional support. The ALDW believes that, while painful, these types of conversations connect us in profound ways and provide a time of growth and deep meaning.
Plummer also stated that the alliance is interested in conducting qualitative research to better understand how individuals react to this difficult topic, and invited participants to contact her if interested in sharing their emotions.
The movie behind the tears and lively discussion was Monsieur Lazhar. This French Canadian Oscar-nominated film explores the aftermath of a middle school teacher’s suicide, largely through the lens of Bashir Lazhar, an Algerian immigrant who is hired to replace the popular teacher at a Montreal public school.
While helping his students deal with the death of their beloved teacher, Lazhar must come to terms with his own tragic past and precarious present. Despite the cultural gap and his old-world teaching methods, Lazhar develops a close and trusting relationship with his students.
This critically acclaimed, thought-provoking film set the stage for the discussion that follows each screening. Among the topics explored, in relation to this film, were the bewildering feelings that survivors have following a suicide, the ways in which death is acknowledged (if at all) and the effects of unresolved mourning.
Plummer, Sarah Meinzer, M.S.S.W., community outreach coordinator, and Don Bushnell, Ph.D., professor emeritus at Fielding Graduate University, facilitated small group discussions. Bushnell said the films have the power to unlock suppressed memories.
“I didn’t realize I had blocked out the circumstances associated with my father’s death until I saw Departures, a film about an undertaker who takes pride in ushering souls out of this world,” he said. “Seeing that film led me to reexamine not only my father’s death but also his life, which was a profound experience for me.”
This highly engaging film series continues this Friday with the screening of The Visitor, a moving tale of love, loss, change and renewal following the pursuits of an emotionally stunted college professor who finds undocumented workers in his apartment and gets swept up in life for the first time. Other films in the series include Moonlight Mile (Nov. 16) and On Golden Pond (Nov. 30). All screenings will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Parish Hall of the Unitarian Society, 1535 Santa Barbara St.
The Alliance for Living and Dying Well, a collaboration of Santa Barbara area agencies, seeks a seamless, compassionate continuum of end-of-life care. The alliance fosters learning and healing through discussions of our mortality, and it promotes practical planning, such as advance health care directives. For more information, click here or call Plummer at 805.845.5314.
— Ann Pieramici is a publicist representing the Alliance for Living and Dying Well.