About the Film
Death and Dying
Copyright © 2000 Trish Williams
The Filmmaking Process
With this intellectual understanding, I decided to put these unspoken and unresolved issues onto film. My film style was influenced by films best defined as cross-cultural/self-anthropological. These films take the filmmakers personal story and ties it into the broader cultural and universal issues through the medium of documentary filmmaking. This film was an attempt examine more closely my feelings and other peoples feelings about my fathers loss, to gain some kind of closure or just advance my grieving process one step further. I felt a nagging hole in my heart regarding my mixed feelings for my father which I wanted to close if possible. I felt my experiences were fairly unique, although others had probably suffered similar consequences from parents with Alzheimers disease or patients who are brain dead but their bodies are kept alive through life support machinery. I now realize that my experience was not necessarily uncommon, its just the nature of alcoholism, which is either denied or kept secret by the family most times.
I began the process with the thought that my mother (Karen) and sister (Sue) must have had similar experiences to my own, but I knew their individual experiences and differences would be interesting to include, so I asked them to be interviewed. I also wondered about my fathers close friends thoughts and experiences and got the courage to ask them (Anne and Rudy Manz) to be interviewed also. I began writing my own monologue. I drafted a series of questions for each interview. After each interview, I learned a lot and got some great material. I had to wrestle with editing and focusing on the important essence of what each person said. Then I edited together the various excerpts of each person, weaving a story composed of common threads and individual differences in experience and views.
This film was an attempt examine more closely my feelings and other peoples feelings about my fathers loss, to gain some kind of closure or just advance my grieving process one step further.
In order to break up the monotony of the interviews, I began to think of visuals I could insert into the interviews. Because many of my fathers belongings were still at my mothers house, I started there. I filmed the parts of my father that remained his fire memorabilia, his trains, his beer bottle collection, his uniform, photographs and super 8 movies.
I determined that my own statements would not work as an interview like the others, given that I am the filmmaker. I decided to film myself driving, and I dubbed in my monologue. The driving symbolized my journey. When I thought of including road signs for imagery, it added meaning.
The editing process was difficult. First I had to learn how to edit. Then I had to organize my material in a way that made sense, telling the story. Then I spent countless hours in the editing room. The first rough cut turned out pretty well, but was too long and needed work. Although the initial rough cut and filming was done in 1997, the Web site and final edit of Losing Tom was done in 2000 as my thesis project as a graduate student at Ramapo College for a Masters degree in Liberal Studies. I had a two year gap before working on the film again as I finished my other coursework. But I always thought about the project in the back of my mind. Meanwhile, my father continued to deteriorate. Right as I was beginning to pick up the project, and submit my formal proposal my father died February 27, 1999. This now changed things. Although I still thought the initial cut of the film told the essential story, I decided to film some of the funeral and include it as an epilogue.
If was extremely difficult working on the project the second time around. The long drawn out experience with my father was draining, the long editing process was draining too. I had to continue to confront painful issues over and over again. The same difficulty applied regarding the research and writing for the Web site. With such personal issues, it was hard only to read objectively and write. I was easily absorbed back into the issues I read about, and was constantly re-examining my own life and feelings. So there was this pull between my personal feelings and issues that affected me, and the analytical research and writing. This pull would distract me from the writing and easily absorb me back into my own issues. Although I can say this is part of the process, it made the writing and the editing more difficult because of the emotional involvement. Also, when editing the film it was very difficult to cut segments due to my emotional investment. To me, these experiences were meaningful and important. But to determine if things were important for the audience was difficult. Since my mother initially felt uneasy about showing the film in public, I wasnt even clear who the audience would be. I had determined that if she really didnt want me to go public with the film I wouldnt, since I had already asked a lot of her regarding the topics and questions she discussed. Eventually she changed her feelings and became comfortable with public exposure.
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