‘Death Literacy’ film series from Bevival begins
Celebrating Aging in Film
Presented by Bevival at Montclair Film
“Another Year Together,” Sunday, Jan. 19, 1:30 p.m.
“A Man Called Ove,” Sunday, Feb. 16, 1:30 p.m.
“Alternate Endings: Six New Ways to Die in America,” Saturday, March 14, 7 p.m.
Montclair Film screening room, 505 Bloomfield Ave.
By GWEN OREL
Like digital literacy, financial literacy and cultural literacy, Caren Martineau of Bevival thinks “death literacy” should be normal words in our culture.
What Martineau means by the words is “having the skills and knowledge that one is mortal,” and being able to address mortality soberly and wisely.
Bevival is a media platform devoted to death literacy, which Martineau describes as a place that creates original content and also aggregates content to “present a picture of the future inclusive of aging.”
Since 2017, Bevival has been presenting “Celebrating Aging in Film,” a film festival that this year will begin on Sunday, Jan. 19, at Cinema505, and will continue through March, showing one film a month. Each film will be followed by a Q&A with creators.
Martineau was inspired by a film festival she’d seen in San Diego produced by Prof. Mario Garrett, a gerontologist and author.
“He uses film as a device to teach people about embedded and unconscious messaging,” Martineau said.
It’s important to address death literacy because there is a “silver tsunami” coming, what Martineau describes as “an unprecedented historical event.” The Baby Boomer generation is already aging, and is followed by two other generations that will be caring for them, and age themselves.
“Many of us are living vibrantly into our ’80s and ’90s,” said Martineau, who is 65. “I have friends with parents who are 100, and they’re fine. What do you do as one approaches an expiration date? How do you shift and alter your relationship with mortality?”
The audience for the film series is not all senior citizens, but also includes people in their ’40s to late ’60s, she said, “the cohort that has had a brush with mortality and truly understands how the language in our cultural conversation has to shift. People more on my end of the spectrum have experienced agism, which is totally inappropriate.”
After a year of working on Bevival, Martineau’s previously healthy husband was diagnosed with Myeloma cancer.
“I became my own case study for how to become death literate,” she said. Her husband went through chemotherapy and went into remission, but the cancer returned. Right now, following a clinical trial, he is cancer-free, but Myeloma is incurable at present.
“You can’t push things off,” Martineau said. “While you have the ability to really live, regardless of circumstances… really live.”
This year’s “Celebrating Aging” series consists of three films: “Another Year Together,” a film by Dan Simon that has not yet appeared on the festival circuit; “A Man Called Ove,” based on the best-selling book by Frederick Backman, and the HBO documentary “Alternate Endings.”
For Martineau, the best thing about the film festivals is the transformation she sees in the audience. People tell her, as they leave the theater or via email afterwards, that they were affected by the films and that the films ignited conversations they wanted to have.
Talking about death is not frightening, Martineau said. The films give people permission to talk about something uncomfortable.
Tom Hall, executive director of Montclair Film, said the collaboration with Bevival, which
began last year, was natural.
“They’re interested in using film to talk about their mission,” he said. The Cinema505 space is a kind of community space for people to get together and talk about issues, he added.
“This is an experience that everyone goes through,” he said. Martineau programs the films, and runs the screenings.
When Hall programmed a film festival in Sarasota, Fla., there were a lot of retirees there — and they wanted to “watch young people frolicking in the nude. Partnering with Bevival is not just for older audiences, but for people of adult ages.”
Dan Simon’s film, “Another Year Together” looks at relationships in several generations, after a startling declaration at a Thanksgiving dinner that a 30-something’s parents are getting a divorce.
Simon, who directed, worked at Bevival as a videographer, and lived in Montclair as a child. The Montclair audience’s reactions will drive adjustments and improvements to the movie, he said.
“The message of the movie is that romantic relationships and committed relationships deal with the same problems at every age, whether 35 or 71,” said Simon, who is 37. “There is a sense of time in the movie, a sense of mortality. People realize they won't be young forever, and their perspective changes.
“We live in a culture that in many respects is always living with a denial of death. We have created a great deal of comforts through technology. There is a romanticization of youth. We aren’t really exposed to the reality of aging and death anymore, and taught to repress it. Bevival is asking people to find peace with it.”
His generation is marrying and having children later, and having fewer children overall — if they have them at all.
Dealing with the future, and dealing with death, are the central themes of his film, and of Bevival, he said.