The short documentary For When I Die is screening at the 2018 Audi Dublin Film Festival and Dingle Film Festival. The film explores Jennifer Sleeman’s outlook on the one thing that will happen to each of us: death. It comes for us all, but we don’t have to be afraid of it. For her, it’s something to talk about and plan. This documentary explores Jennifer’s outlook on what a good life and a good death means to her. Filmed at her home, in her adopted hometown of Clonakilty, Cork.
Director Paul Power chats to Film Ireland about his film.
What can you tell us about For When I Die?
My Grandmother, Jennifer, did a podcast with a local radio station in Clonakilty. She talked about her death and being prepared for dying. It’s a refreshingly accepting perspective. I’ve always known she was open about her own death, she had her coffin built a few years ago, but to hear her speak so beautifully and sincerely on the subject inspired this film project.
Death is a bit of a taboo subject; people don’t like to talk about it. I hope people watching this film will come out thinking and talking about it more. Personally, what struck me was the question ‘How would you like to die?’ Would you fight to the bitter end, or want a comfortable departure at home?
How did the project come about?
For me, filmmaking can be a way to help others, both the audience and the subject. It gives a voice to those we rarely hear or subjects we are reticent to broach.
I’ve always admired Jennifer’s outspoken and honest nature, and after the podcast, I approached her about a short film on the subject of her death. She was very keen, always up for talking about subjects that she’s passionate about.
Jennifer’s outlook is very affirmative, talking about death – controlling and embracing it. What was the narrative process – was it a series of interviews / conversations? Did you have a specific direction in mind?
While the film is about Jennifer’s death, I also wanted to celebrate her life. She still lives on her own, still gardens and is still learning. She’s also well able to speak her own mind, so it was clear that letting her tell the story in her own words would be the strongest narrative. Given her age, I didn’t want to intrude too much into her life, which is why we decided to shoot her day as it happened.
After a brief personal conversation about the subject, Jennifer agreed to an audio interview first. The following month, after emails and research notes, we spoke for an hour in her home. It provided me with the base work for the main interview and gave me a guide for where I wanted to go.
For the main film, we carried out two interviews over a weekend, each about an hour in total. Louise and I had previously agreed that the film would be a combination of her talking about death and life, and her daily routine and details of her life in her home. This meant the schedule was fairly relaxed, and we could just capture Jennifer living her life.
What did you shoot on?
We shot on an A7smk2 on a tripod, using all natural light.
It’s beautifully shot. What did Louise Gaffney [DoP] bring to the project?
She’s an amazingly talented filmmaker in her own right, and it was pleasure to work with her on the film. We’ve both come from the lone videographer filmmaking method, which meant we could share and discuss the film much more openly than if the roles had been more rigid. Louise was keen to capture the natural beauty of Jennifer’s home and personality. She’s a great eye for the quiet moments and small details.
Ken McCabe’s score is ethereal. What can you tell us about that collaboration?
Ken and Louise are in terrific band Come On Live Long, and she recommended I get in contact about the film. His inspiration came from Jenifer’s original podcast in which she had played songs she would love played at her funeral. A tape-loop method helped him create these soundscapes using the music Jennifer loves. It’s a strong, almost physical underscore that helps heighten the emotion of Jennifer’s language and Louise’s beautiful images.
What’s it like to be screening at ADIFF?
It’s a great honour to be selected alongside the likes of Mia Mularkey and Feargal Ward. I’m looking forward to seeing the other shorts and films at the festival. I’ve always played around with videos, and this is my first film festival screen, so it’s a very exciting new step for me in my career.
For When I Die is being shown as part of ADIFF Shorts 1 on Saturday, 24th February at 2pm in the Lighthouse Cinema.
The 2018 Audi Dublin Film Festival takes place 21 February – 4 March.