Do you remember the 2008 Japanese film Departures? About a young man working in an undertakers? So beautiful. And I was put in mind of that when I first read about Dead Good, Rehana Rose’s feature documentary about the ritual of care after death, which is screening at the Depot on 13th November.
It too is a beautiful film, full of moving testimony, as it follows three groups of mourners, each supported by ARKA Original Funerals, based in Brighton. “I think the women there are pioneers”, Rehana says. “They’re empowering people about the ritual of care that’s disappeared from our society.”
The film includes footage of the mourners tending to their dead – washing and dressing them, for instance. It took just under three years to make. “It took the first six months of filming for me to work out what part of the death process to focus on, but that is it: the uncharted territory between point of death and ceremony.”
Rehana said her interest came when, in three consecutive years, her mother, an ex-partner and a young friend died. “If you’ve never organised a funeral before,” she says “you go with what you’re told to do. You can be on autopilot, too, because of your state of mind. But the third of these funerals was supported by ARKA, and it opened my eyes. There were choices you could make. Death is a normal part of life.”
There’s a striking lack of pomp or pretension around all the interactions we witness in the film. The two funeral directors, Cara and Sarah, are so matter of fact, while clearly compassionate – “we’re just normal people” – and this seems to reassure as well as empower their customers. Cara is our main guide throughout the film. Her inspiration to become a funeral director also came, partly, from the personal experience of her own mother’s death: “it just happened”, she says in the film, of the funeral. She felt she herself had no real, hands-on involvement.
“It’s all about offering people choices”, says Rehana. “There’s a growing movement of people wanting to open up the conversation around death. More and more are realising that they can decide what they want, and how involved they personally want to be.” It’s clear that she feels strongly.
I ask about the practicalities of making the film. “It was very difficult. It was a big ask, for my camera to be invited in: I knew that. But people allowed me.” The music in the film was important to her too – to reflect how music is used at ceremonies – but getting permissions can be a minefield. (Any music can be used in a funeral, but for her to film and then release this, not so.) “Robert Smith of The Cure was great”, she said. “After watching an early edit, he re-recorded a track especially for our film! Such generosity.”
Dead Good is on at The Depot on 13th November at 6pm, as part of the Cinecity Festival.