EXIT STRATEGY: FROM SCARED TO SACRED

About the Project

The grief and loss experienced during the pandemic have offered a ripe opportunity to expand the conversation around death and dying while being mindful of the delicate nature of people’s traditions and beliefs.

As the active death positive conversation continues to expand, the majority of funeral homes in the U.S. have yet to catch up and are the focus of Exit Strategy: From Scared to Sacred.
The death industry is in the midst of a sweeping transition from the traditional, established Victorian-era funeral homes that feature a casket and urn “showroom” to more refreshing open spaces that invite conversations about modern burial options including green, aquamation, cremation, and many others.

This film features end-of-life doulas, interfaith ministers, reimaging hospice leaders, and green burial funeral industry mavericks at the forefront of the movement following them as they work to transform the physical spaces, rituals, and experiences for the dying and their loved ones at the end of life.

Imagine a Death Center that replaces today’s outdated funeral home with a two-fold purpose:
1) To educate and demystify end-of-life decision-making and present an array of burial options.
2) To provide a welcoming, aesthetically pleasing, nurturing space.
That’s what Barbara Sarah and her team are doing with reimagining a community-based hospice with Circle of Freinds for the Dying.

We follow some leaders at the forefront of the movement including:

Francesca Arnoldy, Author and curriculum creator of the EOL Doula certificate program at the University of Vermont.

Till the Last private practice EOL Doula and teacher Virginia Chang.

You’ll meet Caren Martineau, the creator of the death literacy platform, Bevival.com.

Death Concierge, William Turner Heath, who pivoted from the world of art curation and design to a career in funeral science, describes his role like this: “I hope to bridge my experiences with visual arts, hospitality, and technology to create highly meaningful experiential services at the end of life.”

Twenty-year-old TikTok (@mimithemortician) sensation and “death influencer,” Mimi Mythen, began making short videos about being a mortician and normalizing deathcare after seeing a TedTalk with Caitlin Doughty that changed her life path. Her most popular TikTok has gone viral with over 2 million views. The most mysterious human event is now merging with the digital frontier.

Reverend Jane B. Roy (Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery) and Mitzi Chafetz (Austin Green Burials)

Both encourage open conversations about what happens in the natural decomposition of a body (if not embalmed) and family participation in the burial itself.

Families are relieved to gain power when it comes to making decisions based on their loved one’s final wishes rather than being grief-stricken and handing it over to an undertaker. The undertaker who comes in to take away a body, saying, “We’ll take care of it,” is an outdated model.

We hope to make the idea of dying and death less scary and more sacred.

Before funeral homes, the family was involved in creating and carrying out deathcare arrangements, but currently, we’ve institutionalized one of the most important rites of passage in our culture: death.

The film also highlights the desire of younger generations to be a part of redefining the future of the death space by expanding transparency and removing “gatekeepers.”

We should all be so blessed to have a “good death.” What does that entail? These are the quality conversations we’re cultivating with the dying and their families: Asking what their dying wishes are in advance, having legacy interview projects, obituary writing, and Celebration of Life music choices, story-telling, nourishing food, and humor.

By following these subjects, the film reveals a metamorphosis where end-of-life and death options are being rediscovered and redefined.

About the Filmmaker

WENDY R. CORN (DIRECTOR/PRODUCER)

Director/Producer Wendy R. Corn is an award-winning documentary filmmaker whose films have been featured at SXSW among other festivals. Her films have addressed spirituality and community on topics such as death, laughter, Judaism, and community song circles. Wendy produced an annual teen 24-hr. filmmaking event with the Austin School of Film (ASoF) called “Lights, Camera, Chutzpah” underwritten by the Austin Jewish Film Festival. She has been a volunteer with the SXSW Photography Crew and had her short “Finding Our Voice” screened at SXSW in 2019. Wendy conceived, produced, cast, and shot the award-winning “Praise HA!”, a documentary about laughter as a healer, which included Wavy Gravy, and Patch Adams. She produced and helped program the Avignon/New York Film Festival, and has worked on various other film festivals (New Directors/New Films, NYFF, Shorts International, NY Comedy, New York Women in Film and Television) in management and programming.  She has also been in front of the camera as a location reporter. She has worked for media and film departments at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Miramax Films, and MTV Networks and is a published writer and photographer. In 2021, she got certified as an End of Life Doula through the University of Vermont, one of their largest enrollments to date.

Animation by © Yuliya Lanina (yuliyalanina.com)

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