How Do We Process Grief? An Interview with Director Katrine Philp of “An Elephant in the Room”


By: Amanda Guarragi 

In our lives there are moments that we will remember forever and all of those key moments, shape us into the people we are today. Majority of us tend to stick to the happy memories, in order to outweigh any pain or trauma that we have encountered. Currently, we are all living through the COVID -19 pandemic and people are grieving all over the world. People are paranoid, anxious, scared and are feeling immense loss.

As adults, we understand how everything works. We try to understand the choices the government makes and we adapt to what is happening around us. However, the ones who will be affected by this the most are the children. It is hard to explain any of this to them. Yes they understand to a certain degree, but for kids who are in elementary school and are constantly active, how are they handling any of this? It also raises the question of how children handle the loss of a loved one. What concepts do they understand? How do they even begin to process any of that? Right now there are children grieving the loss of their mother/father, their siblings or their grandparents.

In the middle of March, I watched a documentary called An Elephant in the Room. Katrine Philp directs the documentary feature and it was supposed to premiere at SXSW film festival. An Elephant in the Room focuses on a holistic way of dealing with grief at a centre called “Good Grief” in New Jersey. Philp shares the stories of six children and their companions who have lost their parents. It shows many different approaches in handling grief and acts as a catharsis for everyone involved, including the viewer.

It’s a subject that not many people touch upon because of how painful these stories can be, especially if those stories involve a child’s point of view. Philp had her own experience involving her brother and his family. At one point they almost lost her sister-in-law and she saw the trauma her brother and three children went through during that period of time. “She miraculously survived, but it left marks – and I started getting interested in making a film about how children experience grief.” When she began research on her film, she didn’t know that her own father would fall sick and also pass on, “Feeling my own grief while filming the families during their own made complete sense. I fully understood what the families were going through and the challenges they faced.” Sometimes sharing the pain and these stories help people connect more and feel like they aren’t alone in feeling what they are feeling.

When it comes to children processing anything, it’s always interesting to have these discussions with them, touching upon difficult subject matters. How do these children process these emotions? What are they absorbing and how is it affecting them? So how does one even begin to have a conversation with children about grief? Well, Katrine Philp weighs in on her process and how she approached the children during filming,

“Shooting in a sensitive situation with grieving children and their families for this documentary, we had to be fairly discrete. The children were going through some very deep emotions and it was important for me to be close to them, but not to overwhelm them with an extra pressure. Filming children is different than filming adults, especially when they are challenged by sadness. The children are more impulsive and can go from feeling very sad one moment to being happy and playing two minutes later. It was very common and kind of difficult to film. The cinematographer was always chasing the moment. Some days we couldn’t use any of the footage that we shot and other days magic happened and we captured a lot of fantastic scenes. We had to film a lot, be patient, and wait for the moments to appear. Our method in the interviews was to get them started and then not interrupt them and ask a lot of questions. I just wanted it to come naturally from them and in every pause they had, I waited and then they just kept talking. So patience was key.”

The children in the documentary had lost their mother, father or even both and their guardian took care of them. There were moments in the feature, which were extremely emotional because of how the children openly discussed how they were feeling. Thankfully these children were not alone, not only did they have their guardian helping them through this difficult time; they attended counseling at “Good Grief” in New Jersey. “Good Grief CEO, Joe Primo invited us to come and film and after the first day of filming I was sure that there was a film to be discovered at Good Grief. “ Philp and her team were able to connect with the families and they started filming, both at Good Grief and their homes.

The stories of the children were so incredibly moving and to see them talk to other children about their new families or how they are feeling, really put so much into perspective. It made me realize that it’s okay to feel the way you are feeling and still be able to have an open conversation with people who are willing to listen. Philp began to film these children at Good Grief and their stories kind of candidly developed on screen for her, “When you start filming it is often very clear who would be good characters in a film, so instead of looking at their stories, because every one of them is heartbreaking, we started filming the ones that we kept filming, in a life situation like this, not all families are ready to invite a film crew home and we totally respected that.” Philp was also very conscious to choose families that she felt were capable of having her team around, filming on and off during the year.

An Elephant in the Room will take you on an emotional journey with these young children and will make you reminisce on how you processed your own grief. “Good Grief” is an organization that deserves more recognition for what they are doing because they are giving children a safe space to express their pain. Children are affected by everything and need to be guided during difficult times. To all those suffering around the world during this time, please remember your feelings are valid and there are many sources of expression for everyone experiencing any type of loss, trauma or mental anguish. We must work together and help each other overcome tragedy on a global scale at this current time.

SXSW 2020: I Will Make You Mine Review

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BY: AMANDA GUARRAGI

Lynn Chen’s directorial feature debut, I Will Make You Mine is a film about three women at different stages of their lives. Erika, Rachel and Yea-Ming all have one thing in common and his name is Goh. It is also the final instalment of the Surrogate Valentine trilogy, written and directed by Dave Boyle. The film explores past relationships, longstanding connections and addresses the burning question, that we all hate to ask ourselves, “Did I really change that much?” Chen integrates her love of music throughout the film, as she handpicks her soundtrack and incorporates original music, making the atmosphere authentic to a musician’s ear.

Not only did Chen direct this film, she also wrote a realistic story that deeply resonated with me. Every woman has that one person in their life that they could never really let go of. It could be a high school/college sweetheart, a close friend or someone they’ve silently yearned for. These three women, all had different relationships with Goh and Chen effortlessly created these characters. Each woman questioned who they were with/without this man in their life. The conversations between each woman and Goh, were very natural and each scene flowed nicely into the other.

The woman I identified with the most was Yea Ming (Yea-Ming Chen) because she yearned for Goh (Goh Nakamura). I think it’s one of the most painful moments to process in one’s life, to want someone so badly and having them not reciprocate the same energy. You could give so much of yourself to someone, without even realizing it and then one day you just snap out of it. Yea Ming is a musician and she shares the same love of music with Goh. There is so much power in music because it connects to so many people. Chen uses music as their creative outlet, to tell each other how they truly feel and I think that’s the most wonderful aspect of this film. Yea Ming wanted to forget about Goh, she desperately wanted to move on, but somehow, she couldn’t find it in herself to do so because she felt that connection.

So many scenarios and topics are brought to the forefront in Chen’s film and I think it’s incredible that she managed to incorporate everything seamlessly. Each woman was presented at different stages in their lives, at different moments, trying to make sense of who they are and I think it’s beautiful work. It’s a film that will stay with me because of how deeply I connected with each of these women.

Chen’s direction and stylistic choices for the film also make it unique in the telling of this story. The choice to film this in black and white, somehow brought more focus to the musicians and I thought that it was effective. The lighting and tones in a black and white film can sometimes be challenging, but Chen had a great eye for composing the frame. There were some shots that were stunning to see in black and white, one that stood out to me was when Yea Ming was playing the piano and smoking, the lighting in that shot, combined with the close up, looked lovely and it stayed with me. The entire film looked very sleek and it suited the musical atmosphere Chen created.

The film also shows the importance of having a creative outlet. Most of the time adults forget what made them happy in their teenage years because they get so caught up in building their current life. Goh’s music made such an impact on these women, that long after they met him, they still felt connected to him. The music brought back memories and feelings that they never thought they would still feel in their current lives. The association of a medium to any memory is such a powerful thing and Chen truly captured that in the best way possible.

I Will Make You Mine makes you reminisce about your own memories that you’ve had with people, who have impacted your life in any way. It almost forces you to re-examine how you are approaching your current life, it shows you that change is necessary and comfort can sometimes be damaging. It’s a thought provoking film and it’s because of Lynn Chen’s natural approach in discussing human behaviour. It’s a lovely directorial debut and I look forward to seeing what she does next.

 

 

The Photograph Movie Review

BY: AMANDA GUARRAGI 

The Photograph is a beautiful film that was written and directed by Stella Meghie. Her direction and vision for this story was executed so fluidly, that both love stories, blended together quite nicely.

I don’t know where to place the film based on my emotions throughout. I was definitely happy to see two black characters, falling in love, in the most natural way possible. I appreciated the way Christina Eames’ letter came into play and the editing allowed for the third act to make a solid impact. Not only is this a film about feeling an unexplainable connection to someone, it also explains the logic behind certain decisions, involving love. Sometimes people make mistakes and use logic when necessary and sometimes love trumps logic and things work out.

After the death of Christina Eames, her daughter Mae, finds a letter addressed to her and as she begins reading it, she understands that her mother, was a woman first and a mother second. Meghie wrote a screenplay that shows the complexities of being a woman and her womanhood is questioned by her daughter Mae, while she reads her letter. Meghie, writes Christina Eames, as this ambitious photographer, who puts her career before anything else because that’s what she truly loves. She also had a beautiful connection, to her first love Isaac, their love was pure. Their love story was put to the test because of Eames’ need to move to New York, in order to pursue her career.

On the other hand, Mae, who is played by the lovely Issa Rae, not only questions her mother and the way she raised her but how she views herself. Mae believes that she has her mother’s tendencies, to just walk away from a situation but as her story goes on and she reads her mother’s words, she understands the grey area of love and logic. Issa Rae and LaKeith Stanfield, who plays a journalist, named Michael Block, had wonderful chemistry and without that this film wouldn’t have been the same. They both elevated their love story, while still trying to understand Christina’s love story with Isaac.

As someone who is very logical when making decisions, I understood many of the choices the character’s made while watching this. Trying to use your head, while your heart is beating loudly is one of the hardest things anyone has to do. It’s also the reason why many people stay in a relationship that simply won’t work. There are many factors to weigh and if you overthink (like me) and think of many scenarios, logic trumps love, majority of the time. In the case of a romantic drama, it’s obviously the opposite, so it was nice to see that level of optimism.

The Photograph is a great love story and will break your heart at times. Christina Eames and Isaac’s love story is one for the ages and it will leave you heartbroken. As for Mae and Michael, they wanted their love story to go in a different direction, even if there were some challenges. It’s a lovely romantic drama and I’m very happy that film with this kind of message exists.

 

Portrait of a Lady on Fire Review

Portrait of a Lady on Fire by Céline Sciamma is a beautiful film from beginning to end. Sciamma makes you feel everything at once through her delicate framing. From the opening scene, the audience is brought into the psyche of Marianne and her memories of Heloise. 

Sciamma introduces the audience to Marianne, an artist and teacher, who is in the middle of instructing her students how to sketch a portrait. I absolutely loved every close up shot in this film because Sciamma captured the beauty in the eyes of the artist. The eyes were constantly searching for every detail in the subject’s face and it was powerful. Marianne then sees an old portrait of hers, out in the open and questions how it got there. Sciamma then tells us the simple, romantic tale of the lady in the portrait. 

As the story travels back into the memory of Marianne, the tones in the frame become softer, warmer and almost dreamlike. The entire film felt like we were entering this alternate timeline of another place entirely, with these characters, as if it were a fragment that was repressed. The screenplay was lovely as well, Heloise’s mother, The Countess advised Marianne to sketch a portrait without Heloise knowing. By doing so, Marianne went on walks with her and attempted to draw from memory. 

The tension begins to build as Sciamma captures stolen looks, intense eye contact, short breaths and subtle touches as their relationship flourishes. The pacing of their love affair was perfect and their intimacy was shown in the best possible way.

“Do all lovers feel like they are inventing something?” that entire scene set me ablaze. If you’ve been in love or even infatuated with anyone, you know that feeling, the burning the wells up inside you, whenever they’re near you. The overwhelming sensation of having them near you, looking at you or even speaking to you lights your entire body and that’s why the flame in the portrait, symbolically means all of this at once. 

Along with this burning flame, comes heartbreak and pain because this type of raw, passionate, all consuming love, which is also forbidden, comes with a cost. Their love, so pure, beautiful, natural and free of restrictions, soon has reality come knocking at their doorstep. 

The line that made me sob uncontrollably was “Don’t regret, remember.” How can such a beautiful experience be forgotten? That type of love is beautiful and the build up to the relationship is something to always cherish. The way Marianne and Heloise communicated their initial thoughts of each other and at what moments they fell for each other, was intimate and necessary. 

The parallel to Eurydice and Orpheus had genius placement in the third act of the film. The concept of looking at someone for the last time can be hard to understand and Sciamma makes sure to vividly have the image of Heloise etched in Marianne’s mind, for the rest of her life.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood Review

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a film that reconnects audiences with their own emotions and their perception of others. Mr. Rogers is a pioneer of children’s programming and this film showcases his ability to connect with everyone. This film was made at the right time because the world seems to have lost the purity and the beauty of living.

Marielle Heller’s direction was lovely and the structure of this film was different than any biopic I’ve seen. The choice to have a journalist as the lead and Mr. Rogers has his subject was a bold choice. Instead of analyzing Fred, Heller reversed the narrative so the spotlight was on the journalist, Lloyd who has been struggling with his own trauma for years. Heller captured the very essence of Fred Rogers because of how she constructed this film.

The most important thing about this film, was choosing the right actor to play Mr. Rogers and after watching this, no one else could have played this role as perfectly as Tom Hanks. Hanks changed his physicality, he slowed down his speech, his voice was just as soothing as Fred’s, even his eye contact was filled with compassion and understanding. Tom Hanks developed the same connection with the camera as Fred Rogers did and that’s why everything fell into place.

The screenplay was very well written and they managed to flow in and out of the set and Lloyd’s life quite seamlessly. Matthew Rhys as Lloyd had a very internal performance and his silence was powerful. The more questions Lloyd asked Fred, the more Fred diverted and gently nudged Lloyd to discuss the root of his pain/anger. Whenever Hanks delivered any of his lines, he just grabbed you and made you listen to what he had to say, most of it was quite insightful.

There were so many aspects that I loved. I loved that Heller opened and closed with the songs from the show, it felt like the whole film was a long, in-depth analysis of Lloyd on his show. I loved that Heller built little cities and kept them in the transitions, just like the show. This was such a lovely piece dedicated to Mr. Rogers and I’m happy that it wasn’t a generic biopic.