Agency of Dying People in Documentary Films

Outi Hakola, Helsingin yliopisto

There has been something of a proliferation of end-of-life documentaries in recent years. The growing interest can be related to the aging population, death awareness movements, and increased demand for hospice care in the Western world. Film and television directors have contributed to public discussions on death by giving visibility to dying people, and claims are often made in the documentaries that dying people find filmmaking therapeutic or as ways to express their own choices at the end-of-life. Sometimes, the participation of dying people have also been challenged because we are dealing with people in vulnerable positions. Indeed, observational tendency of the documentaries can also be seen as taking advantage of the filmed subject, and the self-reflection can also impose meanings on the objects and their experiences (as well as on the viewers). In this presentation, I will discuss this debated question of agency and visibility of dying people as part of cinematic culture through such documentaries as The Island (2018), The Perfect Circle, and Seven Songs for a Long Life (2015).