Resources: Films

Films are a wonderful way to learn and experience other points-of-view. They provide good focus for groups and, followed by discussion, promote and inspire community.

The offerings here are divided into two sections:

  1. Documentaries about the Death Process
  2. General Dramas and Documentaries that introduce us to genuine and inspiring senior moments and stories.

All recommendations are available from Netflix US unless otherwise noted. If you live in Canada or Europe and can’t find a title contact MovieReviews on our Contact us form.

Our Movie Reviewer, Angela Pressburger is the middle generation of a three-generation film family and has been involved in film for most of her life. She is a former Film Program Consultant to the Vancouver International Film Festival; co-founder of the Scotland-Canada Sharing Stories film conferences and workshops; and founding Director of the Nova Scotia Film & Video Producers’ Association. Angela is also the former movie columnist for the Senior Women website and the Shambhala Sun magazine. She also organized the first – and only – Shambhala International Film Festival at Kalapa Assembly 2000. She has been a student of Shambhala Buddhism since 1974.

movie-45-years 45 YEARS, 2015, UK, 95 min. , Drama
Recognitions: Silver Bear for Best Actor and Actress (Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay), Berlin, 2015; Nominated for Golden Hugo for Best Feature, Chicago, 2015; Best Actress and Michael Powell Award for Best British Feature, Edinburgh, 2015; Best Actress, Valladolid, 2015

This drama poses the question, “Can you still have your heart broken in old age?” British married couple Geoff and Kate Mercer (Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling) are a week away from their 45th wedding anniversary party when a long-buried secret threatens to unravel their enduring union. Geoff receives a letter notifying him that the body of his lover, who disappeared 50 years prior in the Swiss Alps, has just been discovered perfectly preserved, stirring up old feelings and provoking jealousy from Kate. While both of them shake it off at first, the revelation summons a formidable ghost from the past that threatens to come between them. The film follows the pair during the week leading up to their celebration, as they grapple with this unexpected late-life marital crisis.

Director Andrew Haigh approaches this delicate story with subtlety and restraint while incisively putting the complexities of the human heart under the microscope, examining the challenges of allegiance and life-long partnership; and in particular, the consequences of the past’s relentless ability to emerge without a moment’s notice.

movie-departuresDEPARTURES, 2008 (DVD 2010), Japan, 131 min., Drama
Recognitions: Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, 2009; Grand Jury Prize, Montreal, 2008; Audience Award, Palm Springs, 2009; and many, many Japanese and Asian awards.

Daigo Kobayashi is a devoted cellist in an orchestra that, as the film opens, has just been dissolved, so he now finds himself without a job. He and his wife decide to move back to his old hometown to look for work and start over. He answers a classified ad entitled ‘Departures’ thinking it is an advertisement for a travel agency only to discover that the job is actually for a ‘Nokanshi’ , one who practices the Japanese art of laying people out, a funeral professional who prepares deceased bodies for burial and entry into the next life. While his wife and others despise the job, Daigo finds himself taking pride in his work and so he begins to perfect the art of Nokanshi, acting as a gentle gatekeeper between life and death, between the departed and the family of the departed. The film follows his profound and sometimes comical journey with the meticulous art of death as he uncovers the wonder, joy and meaning of life and living.

movie-woman-in-goldWoman in Gold, 2015, USA/UK, 109 min., Drama
Directed by: Simon Curtis (My Week With Marilyn, David Copperfield)

Drama based on the remarkable true story of one woman’s journey to reclaim her heritage and seek justice for what happened to her family. Sixty years after she fled Vienna during World War II, an elderly Jewish woman, Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren), starts her journey to retrieve family possessions seized by the Nazis, among them Klimt’s famous painting of her aunt, ‘The Lady in Gold’. Together with her inexperienced but plucky young lawyer Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), she embarks upon a major battle which takes them all the way to the heart of the Austrian establishment and the U.S. Supreme Court, and forces her to confront difficult truths about the past along the way.

movie-still-aliceStill Alice, 2015, USA/France, 101 min., Drama
Awards: Julianne Moore as ‘Alice’ won Best Actress Oscar 2015 — she also won the Golden Globes and BAFTA and innumerable Film Critics’ awards.
Based on the best-selling book of the same name by Lisa Genova

Alice Howland, (a tour de force by Julianne Moore) is a renowned linguistics professor happily married with three grown children. All that begins to change when she strangely starts to forget words and then more. When her doctor diagnoses her with Early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease, Alice and her family’s lives face a harrowing challenge as this terminal degenerative neurological ailment slowly progresses to an inevitable conclusion they all dread. Along the way, Alice struggles not only to fight the inner decay, but to make the most of her remaining time to find the love and peace to make simply living worthwhile.

movie-twin-sistersTwin Sisters, 2002, The Netherlands, 137 min., Drama
Dutch Oscar Nominee for Best Foreign Film, 2004; Golden Calf, Netherlands Film Festival, 2003.
Based on the Dutch bestseller by Tessa de Loo that has been read by more than 3.5 million readers in Holland and Germany.

When six years old twin sisters Lotte (Julia Koopmans) and Anna (Sina Richard) see their mother fall victim of a deadly disease everything they have known disappears in an instant. Sickly Lotte, is sent to live with a distant  wealthy upper class relative in Holland where she falls in love with a well-off Jewish boy.  Anna, the healthier sister, is taken to the farm of her strict uncle in northwestern Germany where she grows up to fall in love with an ardent admirer of Hitler. Separated by many miles and a war that is slowly changing the map of Europe, the two hardly ever communicate; until one day, when they are both elderly women, fate brings them back together. This is an intimate film that does not aspire to be a panoramic representation of the events from 1920-1945. On the contrary, it elaborates on the idea that no matter what side you happen to be a part of during wars there are no real winners, there are only victims left to deal with the consequences of human madness. It is also an excellent exploration of letting go of beliefs established in childhood and held closely until the end of life.

movie-iris Iris, 2001, UK/USA, 91 min., Drama (DVD release 2014)
Recognitions: Best Actor Oscar to Jim Broadbent for the mature John Bayley, and Best Actress nominations for both Kate Winslet and Judi Dench, 2002; BAFTA (British Oscars) for Judi Dench, 2002; New Talent Award to Hugh Bonneville, Berlin 2002; and many film critics awards.
Starring Kate Winslet as the young Iris and Judi Dench as the mature author; and Hugh Bonneville maturing into Jim Broadbent as Iris’s husband, John Bayley.

Based on the life of British writer and philosopher Iris Murdoch, this is a story of unlikely yet enduring love that ends in the tragedy of Alzheimers. As a young academic, teaching philosophy at Oxford, Murdoch meets and eventually falls in love with fellow professor John Bayley, a man whose awkwardness seems in stark opposition to the spirited self-confidence of his future wife. The story unfolds as snippets of time, seen through Bayley’s eyes using alternating scenes with the young Iris and the old to show the most important periods of their relationship. We see when they first met and how they develop a remarkable relationship founded on love, friendship and mutual admiration. And we see how Murdoch moves from being a a vibrant young woman with great intellect to an old one ravaged by Alzheimer’s disease. Murdoch’s great mind deteriorates until she is reduced to a mere vestige of her former self, unable to perform simple tasks and completely reliant on her at times frustrated yet devoted husband. This is quite a painful, but genuine and real, film to watch.

movie-intouchablesThe Intouchables, France, 2011, 112 min., Drama
Golden Globe Nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, 2013; Cesars (French Oscars) for just about everything, 2012; Best Foreign Film in such diverse places as Norway, Japan, Brazil, and Sarajevo.

In Paris, the aristocratic and intellectual Philippe is a quadriplegic millionaire who is interviewing candidates for the position of his carer, with his red-haired secretary Magalie. Out of the blue, the rude African Driss cuts the line of candidates and brings a document from the Social Security and asks Phillipe to sign it to prove that he is seeking a job position so he can receive his unemployment benefit. Philippe challenges Driss, offering him a trial period of one month to gain experience helping him. Then Driss can decide whether he would like to stay with him or not. Driss accepts the challenge and moves to the mansion, changing the boring life of Phillipe and his employees.

movie-fault-in-our-starsTHE FAULT IN OUR STARS, 2014, USA, 126 min., Drama
Favourite Dramatic Moive, USA People’s Choice Awards, 2015; Nominated Best Film, Seattle, 2014; lots of Teen Choice, Film Critics and Break-out Young Actrice awards.
Based on John Green’s award-winning novel of the same name – amazon’s no. 1 Best Seller in Children’s Self-Esteem books.

Hazel and Augustus are two teenagers who share an acerbic wit, a disdain for the conventional, and a love that sweeps them on a journey. Their relationship is all the more miraculous, given that Hazel’s other constant companion is an oxygen tank, Gus jokes about his prosthetic leg, and they meet and fall in love at a cancer support group. Inspiring and delightful film for any age.

AMOUR, France/Germany/Austria, 2013, 122 min., Drama

Winner, Palme d’Or, Cannes, 2012; Best Foreign Film at Golden Globes, BAFTAs (British Oscars), Cesars (French Oscars) and another 70 critics circles and film festival awards.

DirectorMichael Haneke became one of the very few directors to cop the Palme d’Or at Cannes for a second time (The White Ribbon, 2009) with this brilliantly acted, profoundly affecting and emotionally devastating exploration of love. starring three of France’s greatest thespians, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva and Isabelle Huppert.

An elegant elderly couple, retired music professors Anne (Riva, Hiroshima Mon Amour) and Georges (Trintignant, The Conformist) enjoy their last good day together when they attend the concert of a former student (pianist Alexandre Tharaud as himself). The next day, Anne freezes at the kitchen table for a few minutes, after which she goes on as if nothing happened. Georges encourages her to see a doctor, who recommends surgery, but the operation fails, and she suffers a second stroke that paralyses her right side. Georges copes the best he can with help from neighbours and home-care workers, but Anne rapidly loses the ability to function on her own, even to communicate, which upsets their daughter, Eva (Huppert, The Piano Teacher). Georges’ stoic acceptance elicits praise from onlookers, but the director reveals the cracks in his façade: the nightmares, the paranoia, and a series of actions that blur the lines between madness and compassion. This is a film to appreciate, like a fine wine, rather than to enjoy as happy ending entertainment.

movie-witWIT, 2001, USA, 99 min., Drama
Recognitions: After winning a number of television Emmys, this film went on to win the Special Prize of the Ecumenical Jury in Berlin; the Humanitas cable television award; and a Best Actress for Emma Thompson at Valladolid, all in 2001.

No longer available on DVD but you can download it from, Netflix, and in various iterations for free on YouTube.

This HBO, made-for-television, film starring Emma Thompson and directed by Micke Nichols, is based on the Margaret Edson play, Vivian Bearing is a literal, hardnosed English professor who has been diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer. She agrees to be part of a trial and, as she slides further and further downhill, she reflects on her reactions to the cycle the cancer takes, the treatments, and significant events in her life. The people that watch over her are Jason Posner, who only finds faith in being a doctor; Susie Monahan, a nurse with a human side that is the only one in the hospital that cares for Vivian’s condition; and Dr. Kelekian, the head doctor who just wants results no matter what they are. An incredible acting job and a chilling inditement of the pure science approach to medicine.

movie-theory-of-everythingTHE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, 2014, UK, 123 min. DocuDrama
Directed by James Marsh (Man on A Wire) and starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones
Nominated for 5 Oscars, including Best Picture; Won Best Actor and Best Original Score at 2015 Golden Globes; Best Film, Actor, Actress, Screenplay,Music, Editing BAFTAs (British Academy Awards), 2015; plus a global bouquet of film critics awards.

The  story of the most brilliant and celebrated physicist of our time, Stephen Hawking, and Jane Wilde the arts student he fell in love with whilst studying at Cambridge in the 1960s. Little was expected from Stephen Hawking, a bright but shiftless student of cosmology, given just two years to live following the diagnosis of a fatal illness at 21 years of age. He became galvanized, however, by the love of fellow Cambridge student, Jane Wilde, and he went on to be called the successor to Einstein, as well as being a husband and father to their three children. Over the course of their marriage as Stephen’s body collapsed and his academic renown soared, fault lines were exposed that tested the lineaments of their relationship and dramatically altered the course of both of their lives. As we know, Hawking is now 74 and still going strong, an inspiration to us all.

Still Mine, 2013, Canada, 102 min., Drama,
Recognitions: Golden Space Needle Award for Best Actor, Seattle, 2013; Audience Award Palm Springs, 2013; Genies (Canadian Oscars) for Best Film, Actor and Screenplay, 2013

Based on incredible true events and set in the beautiful countryside of Canadian Maritime Province of New Brunswick, Still Mine is a heartfelt love story about 89-year-old Craig Morrison (Oscar-nominee James Cromwell), a stubborn farmer used to doing things for himself, and his wife, Irene (Oscar-nominee Geneviève Bujold) who is beginning to show signs of dementia. Against the wishes of their two offspring who still reside in the area and who would like to see more standard care provided for Irene, Craig, the son of a master shipbuilder who has inherited his father’s building abilities, decides to mill lumber from trees on their property and build a more suitable, small one story house in which he and Irene can live. Beginning this project with only a design in his mind, he is encouraged by friends at least to go through the regulatory process of building permits and the like. Enter an over-zealous government building inspector, so meticulous he’s actually amusing, except that he holds all the cards — or does he? Faced with Irene’s worsening condition, Craig races against time to finish the house, but court orders and possible jail time force him to take a final stand. You’ll have to watch the movie to see how it all turns out….

movie-100-year-old-manTHE HUNDRED YEAR OLD MAN WHO CLIMBED OUT OF THE WINDOW AND DISAPPEARED, Sweden, 2013, 114 min., Drama
Audience Choice Award, Chicago, 2014; Best Film, Dublin, 2014; Favorite Independent World Feature, Mill Valley,2014.

Based on the internationally best-selling novel by Jonas Jonasson (The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden), the unlikely story of a 100-year-old man who decides it’s not too late to start over. Allan Karlsson still has a sharp mind and, keen to avoid the party that his retirement home have organized for him, he climbs out of his bedroom window and begins an escapade featuring criminals and a stash of drug money. Allan, it transpires, is not new to adventure – during his lifetime he was involved with many significant events which changed the course of history and became associated with world leaders and other notable figures along the way.For a century he’s made the world uncertain, and now he is on the loose again.

Rarely is a film this engaging, entertaining and unpredictable, in any language! The story, present and past, of Allan Karlsson grabs you from the start. It reminded me of Peter Sellers performance in Being There.
CHRISTMAS IN THE CLOUDS, 2001, USA, 96 min., Drama
Recognitions:  Audience Award, Austin, 2001; Luminaria, Santa Fe, 2001; Best Actor, American Indian Film Festival, 2001;
Christmas In The Clouds is my new favorite movie! — John Trudell, Native American Poet & Activist

Ray-Clouds-on-Fire, the handsome and well educated manager of an up-scale but struggling tribal ski resort, dreams of sold out suites and 4-star reviews. An exclusive travel guide has just announced a surprise visit and he is eager to get it just right.  However, Tina Pisati, the attractive woman he picks out as the reviewer, eventually turns out to be his father’s online pen pal – and she’s not Italian either, but Native.  Since none of them have met before and they all have certain expectations, mistaken identity plays a big part in the gentle humour of what unfolds.

Look for native actor Graham Greene’s exquisite performance as the resort’s vegetarian chef who refers to the animal dishes on the menu with sorrowful loving kindness as a way to discourage meat-eaters. Enjoy the film’s delightful brand of American Indian humor as the plot unfolds and Ray and Tina fall in love; and the real critic questions not only the resort’s quality, but also his own sanity.

movie-innocenceINNOCENCE, 2000, Australia/Belgium, 96 min., Drama
Recognitions: Grand Prix des Ameriques and the People’s Choice Award, Montreal, 2000.

A passionate and tender story about a timeless relationship between two people who first became lovers as teenagers, and who now, in their sixties, re-connect to find that all the old feelings are still there. It’s awkward at first, but they get past the small-talk to find that – although in a more mature way  – they are still passionately in love. Of course there are complications, baggage, the possibilities of sickness and death, along with the feeling that one is now too old to lie.

Here is sex and old age, something rarely talked about in life – or the movies – presented with an honesty and, yes, innocence, that is entirely disarming. It’s scary to break out of the accumulated routines, obligations, habits and inhibitions one has bought into over the years, but these lovers manage, mainly because she needs it and is willing to take the lead.

A SIMPLE CURVE, 2005, Canada, 94 min. , Drama
Recognitions:Best Writer/Director Award, Nantucket, 2006; many Canadian film awards

A first-time, largely autobiographical film with a witty script that has the outrageous edge that only comes from the authenticity of first-hand experience.  Set in British Columbia’s majestic Slocan valley, the story centers around Caleb, the son of American hippie, draft-dodger parents. He and his father,”Hash Oil” Jim run a failing cabinetry business and Caleb, now twenty-seven, is tiring of the ever-shrinking parameters of small-town life and wondering if he should step out on his own. Into this scenario comes Matthew, an old friend – and rival – of his father’s who returned to the US as soon as the draft-dodgers were pardoned and has become rich through eco-tourism.

Told with wit and warmth, this film is as meticulously crafted as the chairs Jim labors over in his wood-working shop. (The “simple curve” of the title refers to the lines of a chair Jim is perfecting.) For everyone who remembers the sixties – whether they were there or not – this is a smart, funny and genuine film that is a  personal favourite and deserves a wider audience.

movie-harold-and-maudeHAROLD AND MAUDE, 1971, USA, 91 min., Drama
Recognitions: Best Actor and Actress Nominations, Golden Globes, 1972; BAFTA (British Oscars) Most Promising Newcomer (Bud Cort), 1973; Golden Spike, Valladolid, 1974.
Directed by Hal Ashby (later to make Being There), with a sunny soundtrack by Cat Stevens.

Harold is 20, very rich and obsessed by death. His favourite pastime is trying out various suicide options . Maude is 79¾, very poor and very alive. She steals cars, liberates canaries from pet shops and grieves for trees suffocating from pollution.  They both like attending funerals for strangers and this is how they meet. They fall in love while transplanting the tree, and marry on the eve of Maude’s 80th birthday despite desperate interference by Harold’s mother, (the wonderful Vivienne Pickles), who is constantly trying to fix Harold up with cheerful sorority girls. Harold’s developing connection with Maude is the backbone of the movie. Maude’s uniqueness, whether she’s defying a parade of authority figures, or regaling Harold with stories about her renegade past, gives him something to live for so that, together, they dissolve the line between darkness and light along with the ones that separate people by class, gender, and age — all to a sunny Cat Stevens sound track.

A box office failure upon its initial release in 1971 Harold and Maude slowly gathered a global following, to become a bona-fide cult classic. The film has lost none of its power to entertain, charm and surprise three decades on. Its focus on being true to yourself and following your own path has grown in popularity and it remains one of the cinemas most memorable love affairs with its idiosyncratic character and atmosphere making it one of the least-dated counter-culture titles of the post Easy Rider  period.

movie-five-people-you-meet-in-heavenThe Five People You Meet in Heaven, 2004,  USA, 180 min., Drama

On his 83rd birthday, Eddie (Jon Voight), a war vet and a maintenance worker at the Ruby Pier amusement park, dies while trying to save a girl who is sitting under a falling ride. He dies thinking that his life has had no effect or meaning, but when he awakens in the afterlife,  five people from his life appear and show him how he affected each of them in important ways. These encounters help him understand the meaning of his life.

A star-packed (Jon Voight, Jeff Daniels, Ellen Burstyn, Callum Keith Rennie and Rebecca Jenkins) deft piece of  ‘spiritual cinema’.

movie-tous-les-matins-du-mondeTOUS LES MATINS DU MONDE (All the Mornings in the World), 1991 (and finally released on DVD in 2006), France, 115 min.
Recognitions: Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, Golden Globes, 1993; Nominated for Golden Bear, Berlin, 1992
Based on the novel of the same name by Pascal Quignard

In France, in the late 17th century, Monsieur de Sainte Colombe, a composer and viola da gamba player of unsurpassed brilliance, comes home to find that his wife has died. His grief drives him to become a recluse whose life is devoted to music and his daughters, Madeleine and Toinette. But his peace is disturbed by the arrival of Marin Marais, a young composer and musician so gifted that Sainte Colombe agrees to take him on as an apprentice. Marais falls in love with Madeleine, is evicted from the house by her father, and then abandons the girl to make his fortune at the Versailles court of Louis XIV. As the film opens, he is a bloated old man, weeping at the thought of his memories from a youth when it seemed that new days were infinite; now there are a limited number of “mornings” left to him and his life is filled only with regret. These are the bare bones of a story that explores the intense link between love and artistry and our capacity for regret when we do not follow our hearts.

The older Marais is played by Gerard Depardieu, and the younger by his son, Guillaume. The story unfolds as a series of vignettes set in the pastoral beauty of the French countryside and the effect of elegant simplicity is enhanced by costumes that seem derived directly from a Vermeer painting. The best-selling soundtrack with original music by Jordi Savall and featuring the music of Couperin, Lully, Marais and Sainte Colombe, created a revival of interest in baroque music, which continues now, some fifteen years after the movie was made. This is a film that will appeal to the romantic in all of us. Highly recommended.

movie-the-eventTHE EVENT, 2002, Canada, 110 min., Drama
Recognitions: Jury Award, Berlin, 2003; Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Actress (Olympia Dukakis), L.A. Outfest, 2003; Audience Award, Indianapolis, 2003; Best Director and Writer, Atlantic Film Festival, 2003.

Matt (the charismatic Don McKellar) is in his thirties, gay, Jewish, and dying of AIDS. He is blessed with many friends but, feeling he has no hope of recovery, decides to take his own life. With help from his friends and the support of his mother (Olympia Dukakis), he decides to hold an “event”, a party at which he can end his life among friends with a final celebration of life. His boyfriend, Brian, is an AIDS counselor and has access to the necessary drugs. All goes well until an inquisitive district attorney (Parker Posey) arrives and begins to ask questions. She’s looking into a string of unexplained deaths in the Chelsea district of Manhattan where Matt lived and died. Initially, she’s only interested in questioning Brian, but then a video of Matt’s event surfaces and her net spreads wider. As she questions the participants she beings to uncover disturbing inconsistencies in the stories of Matt’s nearest and dearest.

This is a hard-hitting film that will make you think about dying and the right to choose your death. What is the role of loved ones in supporting such a decision? And how do you begin to deal with emotional conflicts and the single taste of tears, anger and humour all arising at the same time? Everyone who was at Matt’s “event” tells it like it was for them, and the answers are not always the ones a district attorney wants to hear – but they are truth. This is the best drama we’ve seen on assisted dying, and it will provoke your mind for days.

movie-yi-yiYI YI: A ONE AND A TWO, 2000 (released on DVD in 2006), Japan / Taiwan, 173 min., Drama
Recognitions: Best Director,Cannes, 2000; Best Foreign Film Cesar (French Oscars), 2001; Best Film, Chinese Media Awards, 2001; Grand Prix, Fribourg, 2001; Panorama Jury prize, Sarajevo, 200; Chief Dan George Humanitarian Award, Vancouver, 2000; Best Foreign Film, French Film Critics, LA Film Ciritics, New York Film Critics, 2000

The story of NJ, a middle-aged Taiwanese electronics executive, who is so busy rushing through his life he has not been paying much attention to happiness. From this centre-point the story moves through the ups and downs of three generations of an upper-middle class Taiwanese family. As the film opens, NJ’s wife, Min-Min, is undergoing a spiritual crisis and wants to go on a retreat. His teenage daughter, Ting-Ting is about to experience first-love. And Yang-Yang, his eight-year-old son has begun a project to photograph the backs of people’s head in order “to show them what they cannot see.” But, all-in-all, things seem pretty normal for an active family. Then the current of life begins to shift. At Min-Min’s brother’s wedding, NJ’s mother-in-law has a stroke which results in a coma. Then NJ has a chance encounter with his first love, Sherry, whom he has not seen for thirty years and his emotions begin to surface – but things do not unfold as one might imagine.

This is a film about the ebb and flow of missed opportunities. Life is shown as the heady mix of comedy, drama and tragedy that it really is without adding any additional layers of sentimentality or cynicism – a feat which allows the director to explore some deep truths about the intertwining the rush of modern existence with timeless karma. The result is an observant, richly detailed, portrait that allows the minutiae of daily life to provide an ongoing, flowing background for some of our deeper questions such as: What sort of difference does pursuing one opportunity and not another actually make in our lives? The characters never seem to feel forced into sudden decisions, but to be deeply committed to the life they’re actually leading — not to a dream that’s taking place only in their head. This film is all about the small magic of going with the current of ordinary life.

movie-life-and-death-of-colonel-blimpThe Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, UK, 157 min., 1943, Technicolor Drama Classic
Recognitions: One of five Powell/Pressburger films in the British Film Institute’s Top 50 British Films ever made.

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s much-lauded epic satirizes British traditionalism and stirred up impassioned hostilities and indignations among the Brits when released in 1943. It so infuriated Winston Churchill, in fact, that he refused to allow its exportation to other countries, particularly the U.S. The sweeping story covers several decades of the changing face of war, from the Boer War through WWII, as presented through the lives of handsome young British officer Clive Candy, and a German officer, Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff,  At loggerheads regarding principles, and in love with the same woman (always played by the divine Deborah Kerr), they become fast friends and Theo, disgusted by Nazi atrocities, arrives in England as a refugee, where he reencounters his old friend, now a prattling old shuffler rapidly approaching the end of his career and raving continuously about Nazi conduct (or lack thereof) in battle. Powell and Pressburger adapted Colonel Blimp from a comic strip; it became one of the hallmarks of their careers.

movie-griefwalkerGRIEFWALKER, 2008, National Film Board of Canada. NFB,70 min.
Astonishing…at once visually lush and scripturally poetic, The Globe and Mail, Toronto

Meet Stephen Jenkinson, a Harvard-educated theologian who apprenticed to a masterstory-teller; a University of Toronto graduate with a Masters in Social Work, and one of Canada’s leading palliative care educators. As Director Palliative Care at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, Jenkinson has been at the deathbed of well over a thousand people.

What he sees over and over, Jenkinson says, is ‘a wretched anxiety and an existential terror’ even when there is no overt physical pain. ‘I recognized that something essential was missing,’ he says. ‘At every deathbed and hospital room, I didn’t see sane dying. I saw sedated dying, depressed dying, isolated dying, utterly disembodied dying. Sane dying would require a childhood steeped in death’s presence, an adulthood employed in its service, and an elderhood testifying to its necessity. We suffer from what he has come to call ‘grief illiteracy’. We have no language for what really happens, no ability to be a faithful witness, to do justice to how it feels to be dying in our time and place.

In this moving and beautiful film, Jenkinson and filmmaker Tim Wilson, who is also a friend, appear in conversation, on-screen, together. Reverent and respectful, captured with a cinematic eye, this lyrical, haunting documentary exhibits an unparalleled understanding of mortality.

Watch Online:
To buy or download from:
To buy in the US, Canada, or Internationally from the National Film Board of Canada:

movie-choosing-to-dieCHOOSING TO DIE, 2011, BBC Scotland., 59 min.
Watch Online:

Sir Terence David John “Terry” Pratchett, OBE (28 April 1948 – 12 March 2015) was an English author of fantasy novels, best known for the 41 novels of the Discworld series. An Alzheimer’s disease sufferer, Pratchett died aged 66, three years after making this documentary. The film’s focus is Peter Smedley, a millionaire hotelier suffering from motor neurone disease, who chose assisted suicide at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland. Smedley allowed Pratchett to be with him and his wife during his death by a lethal dose of barbiturates. Wound into the Smedleys’ story are interviews with a number of other people contemplating a similar death.

The film was highly controversial in the UK, with Michael Nazir-Ali, the retired Bishop of Rochester condemning the programme as ‘science fiction’, while Care not Killing (CNK) described it as “a recipe for elder abuse and also a threat to vulnerable people.” However, many felt that Pratchett sensitively tackled the extremely complicated issue of euthanasia, supporting his own personal feeling that assisted suicide for the terminally ill should be legal in the UK.

IN MY TIME OF DYING, 2011, KBTC (PBS), 58 min.
movie-in-my-time-of-dyingWatch Online:

The film explores the way people approach the end of life in America. Medical experts and spiritual leaders are woven together with intimate portraits of people facing imminent death. The result is a unique and important conversation about how we meet death, how we support our loved ones in their time of dying, how we cultivate hope in these times, and how to engage in conversations.

“Most of the patients and families I work with think of life as this is the end point of their time on earth, and I think they mostly look at it with a great deal of fear and terror because I think that most patients feel a little isolated feel a little like they are getting put on the iceberg and pushed away. So what I see is a number of patients and families who spend all their energy at the end of life resisting death and then feel like when they finally must accept it that its some kind of a defeat.”

movie-souicide-touristTHE SUICIDE TOURIST, FrontLine Documentary, 2007, 45 min.
Watch Online: Netflix

Do we have the right to end our lives if life itself becomes unbearable, or when we enter the late-stages of painful, terminal illness? The questions, debated for centuries, have only grown more pressing in recent years as medical technology has allowed us to live longer lives, and several U.S. states have legalized physician-assisted suicide. With unique access to Dignitas, the Swiss non-profit that has helped over one thousand people die since 1998, Academy award- winning Canadian filmmaker John Zaritsky (The Fifth Estate, 1981) offers a revealing look at two different couples facing the most difficult decision of their lives, and lets us see for ourselves as one Chicago native makes the trip to Switzerland for what will become the last day of his life.

movie-how-to-die-in-oregonHOW TO DIE IN OREGON, 2011, 125 min.
Recognitions: Won: Grand Jury Prize, Sundance; Audience Award, Portland; Best Feature Documentary, Ashland; 2011. Nominated: Best Documentary at HotDocs, 2011.
Watch Online: Netflix, Amazon
Buy DVD: Amazon

In 1994 Oregon became the first state to legalize medical aid in dying. At the time, only Belgium, Switzerland, and the Netherlands had legalized the practice. As a result, any individual whom two physicians diagnose as having less than six months to live can lawfully request a fatal dose of barbiturate to end his or her life. Since 1994, more than 500 Oregonians have taken their mortality into their own hands. This documentary tells the stories of those most intimately involved with the practice today — terminally ill Oregonians, their families, doctors, and friends — as well as the passage of a medical aid in dying law in neighbouring Washington State. Through these stories, director Peter Richardson examines both sides of this complex, emotionally charged issue. What emerges is a life-affirming, staggeringly powerful portrait of what it means to die with dignity.

Seattle Senmovie-seattle-seniors-home-brings-young-and-old-togetheriors Home Brings Young and Old Together, August 2015, 9.5 min.

A heart-warming and inspiring short film about a Seattle seniors’ home where elders and children, who both live in the ‘now’, live in harmony.  Probably the only seniors’ home which is also a licensed day-care.

movie-being-mortalBEING MORTAL, PBS Frontline, February 2015, 54 min.
Watch Online:
Buy DVD: amazon

A companion piece to the book of the same title. Renowned surgeon Atul Gawande teams with FrontLine to challenge us all to reexamine how we think about death and dying. This film also explores the burgeoning art and science of palliative care and the ways in which having a conversation around the question ‘What are your priorities if your time is limited?’ can empower patients to live their lives fully, all the way to the very end.

BREATHING EARTH: SUSUMU SHINGU’S DREAM, 2012, Documentary  Germany/UK/Turkey/Mexico/Japan/Italy/France, 97 min.
movie-breathing-earthGolden Frog, CameraImage, 2013.
Director: Thomas Riedelsheimer (Rivers and Tides: Andrew Goldsworthy; Touch the Sound, Evelyn Glennie)

Artist and architect Susumu Shingu has had a lifelong “dialogue with the wind and with water.” Now he wants to create wind-powered communities. Director Thomas Riedelsheimer documents this combination of passionate environmental story and moving exploration of creativity with characteristic eloquence and lustrous imagery.

75-year-old Japanese artist Susumu Shingu talks with nature through his sculptures. His lifelong dialogue with the wind and with water has given the world uniquely beautiful works of fluid, unpredictable and ever-changing movement. Susumu renders visible the veiled and the unseen and opens to us new perspectives. Through the medium of film we are able to accompany this quiet and unassuming – but thoroughly delightful – man in pursuit of a dream, a quest to create an awareness of our planet, our breathing earth and our human values. Breathing Earth is a film about the wind, the philosophy of a wise person, art, love and dreams.

movie-salt-of-the-earthThe Salt of the Earth, 2014, France/Brazil/Italy, 110 min., Documentary
Awards: Nominated for Best Documentary Oscar, 2015; Won Un Certain Regard and Ecumenical Jury Prize Special Mention to directors Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado (son of Sebastião), Cannes, 2014; Audience Award, Dublin, 2015; People’s Choice, Melbourne, 2014; One Future Prize, Munich, 2014; Audience Award, San Sebastian, 2014; and more.

For the last 40 years, the photographer Sebastião Salgado has been travelling through all the continents of our world, training his camera on an ever-changing humanity. Having witnessed some of the major events of our recent history; international conflicts, starvation and exodus, he became depressed. To heal his soul, he decided, with the help of his wife, that it was time for a change. Together they embarked on turning the family’s Brazilian ranch lands from a parched desert to a green paradise. Now he has embarked on the discovery of pristine territories, of wild fauna and flora, and of grandiose landscapes as part of a huge photographic project which is a tribute to the planet’s beauty.

movie-cabelle CABALLÉ, MÁS ALLÁ DE LA MÚSICA / CABALLÉ, BEYOND MUSIC, 2003 Spain, 98 min., Documentary

Yes, this is an opera film; it’s also a film about a naturally Shambhalian woman who happens to be an opera singer. The story is framed as an engaging excursion through the life of Spain’s greatest soprano, Montserrat Caballé, featuring stunning concert footage and interviews with her high-profile colleagues, including Zubin Mehta, Mstislav Rostropovich, Placido Domingo and Joan Sutherland.

The documentary moves from Caballé’s humble Barcelona beginnings, through her early years as a professional in Basel and Bremen, her career-defining 1965 Carnegie Hall performance in Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia, to her rise as an international star. This is an extraordinary portrait of an intelligent, articulate, genuine and obviously life-loving woman, who also happens to be one of the finest operatic performers of our time.

The diva comes across as less the prima donna and more your mischievous favourite aunt – at one point, bursting into an impromptu aria outside a hotdog stand in Munich.  Carefully selected archival footage is generally taken from the final moments of performances, and is often breathtaking. High points include Caballé and Marilyn Horne’s aching duet from Rossini’s Semiramide and an open-air 70s performance of Bellini’s technically taxing Norma, with the wind blowing violently around Caballé’s powerful frame. This is a person you feel you would really like to know as well as watch perform.

movie-el-sistemaEl Sistema: Music to Change Life, 2009, Germany, 102 min., Documentary
Recognitions: Grand Prix ,Golden Prague International Television Festival, 2009; Special Jury Prize, Rodos Ecofilms Festival, 2009:

In 1975, at the age of 36, Venezuelan economist, politician and musician, Jose Antonio Abreu, decided to leave the oil business and follow his dream to improve the quality of life for his country’s disadvantaged children – through music. He cajoled ten players from from the country’s only orchestra to act as coaches, and begged and borrowed rehearsal spaces and instruments. As he says: “We wanted to give a concert as soon as possible, just to show that it was possible that a poor child with no life hopes could actually perform music…. Within a year the orchestra was a state foundation.” Now, 41 years later, more than a million youngsters have gone through the National System of Youth & Children’s Orchestras of Venezuela, or ‘El Sistema/the System’.

The philosophy behind El Sistema is unique: The role of art in society is seen as a key element in educating and allowing people to integrate and work together successfully as a community. This particular project harnesses the co-operative nature of classical music to help children understand what it means to work together and create something that is both spiritually and socially uplifting. Now 84, Abreu continues with his heart-project, and this film explores the change that can come from one man’s commitment.

The children start young; as early as two years of age. They are taken off the ‘mean streets’ of Venezuela, taught the basics of music, and provided with instruments and lessons at one of the 90 ‘núcleos’ (System Centers) scattered throughout the country – which in many cases take the place of the nearly non-existent public school system in Venezuela – and given the chance to become part of an ensemble. The youngsters make music six days a week for four hours a day, and the film emphasizes that this time gives them respite from otherwise difficult lives, providing safety and a supportive environment.  

The most talented and committed of these young musicians are selected to perform in Venezuela’s prestigious Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela (SBYOV). Under the baton of their super-star conductor, Gustavo Dudamel (who also became conductor of the Los Angeles Symphony, in September 2009), they have toured internationally, performing to capacity crowds in many of the world’s most famous concert halls.

Not surprisingly, the political implications of the United States adopting a Venezuelan idea, regardless of its merits, has so far not found much of a foothold. Instead, there have been a number of articles on how supporting El Sistema is supporting Hugo Chavez and therefore one should boycott the film and not  download the film or buy the dvd. Nonetheless, many El Sistema inspired youth music programs are cropping up around Latin America, Europe and the U.K., with lots of support from local communities, prominent classical music figures and a few governments.

This is an absolutely ‘must-see’ film and I hope that this review inspires you to do so, and also to contemplate how cross-generational cultural activities can become more central to the development of Shambhala.  

For more information: El Sistema Website:

The TED Prize for “wishes big enough to change the world” announced a partnership with the New England Conservatory (NEC), to launch the Abreu Fellows Program, which is committed to bringing El Sistema to the US and the rest of the world. See their blog at:

From The Telegraph, UK, an article about what “a dilapidated and crime-ridden council estate in Raploch Scotland, and a dilapidated and crime-ridden barrio in Caracas might have in common.”

movie-amargosaAMARGOSA , 2000, USA, 93 min., documentary
Recognitions: Best Documentary, Cinequest, 2001; Best of Festival, Nashville, 2000; Audience Award, Newport, 2001; Emmy for Cinematogaphy; Positive Lifestyle Award, Rhode Island, 2000; Gold Award, WorldFest, Houston, 2000.

This film follows the trials and tribulations of dancer Marta Becket, who at forty-three throws over a life as a dancer of middling talent in New York City to follow her dreams in the once-prosperous California mining town of Death Valley Junction, population 10. Originally known as Amargosa – the home of bitter waters –  the town does boast an Opera House, which Marta promptly buys and makes into her life’s work. Even the heat of a Death Valley summer and the arrival old age and infirmity can’t dim her flame.

Lean back and enjoy the fascinating cinematic collage of interviews, still photographs and performance videos that recount Marta’s story; whatever arises, she perseveres, for example, she wants to dance, but there’s no audience, so she hand-paints one on the walls.   People hear about her and start to visit, and soon her Opera House performances are packed and she’s become a phenomenon. Watch for the advent of ex-clown, Tom Willet, who happens by and joins Marta’s act to bring a very welcome sense of lightness and humour to her later years. And finally, accompany Marta, age 76, welcoming a tour bus of many of her old New York City dance friends.  When they arrive and see her dance, they are stunned by what she has accomplished and how alive she is compared to their own geriatric existence.  For Marta has followed her dreams.

movie-cool-and-crazyCOOL AND CRAZY, 2002, Norway, 90 min., subtitles, Documentary
Recognitions: Best Documentary, Chicago, 2001; Best Nordic Film, Goteborg, 2001; Silver Cloud for Best Norwegian Film of the Year, 2001.

A quirky Scandinavian choir film, this delightful documentary is the closest you are likely to get to an Arctic Buena Vista Social Club. And, yes, this is the same Norwegian town that came to fame as the setting for Isak Dinesen’s Babette’s Feast – only this time it’s the background for a portrait of the local male choir, aged 29 – 96. We visit the men’s homes and hear their thoughts on love, aging and living in a small northern fishing village at the beginning of the 21st century.  Punctuating the personal dramas are tableaux of the men singing – including wearing tuxedos in a howling snowstorm and on a trip to nearby Russia. The film hit Norway like a tornado and became a cult classic on the international festival circuit. It’s at once rough, tender, and very funny. A real delight.

movie-ram-dass-fierce-graceRAM DASS: FIERCE GRACE, 2001, United States, 93 min., Documentary
People’s Choice Award, The Hamptons Film Festival, 2002

The most popular film the Film Society I founded on BC’s Sunshine Coast showed in its eight years of existence. This is a sensitive, impassioned – and often quite amusing – look at the life and struggles of Baba Ram Dass (aka Richard Alpert) and author of the 70s classic Be Here Now. The director takes the guru’s recent stroke as a starting and finishing point and weaves his history of the man around it. Ram Dass describes himself as ‘having been stroked’ and shows us how his disability opened a door to a new chapter in his life in which he
spends considerable time helping and counselling individuals in some very moving situations, and working with the Seva Foundation on their social action projects to relieve world suffering. Highly recommended.

movie-death-by-designDEATH BY DESIGN: The Life and Times of Life and Times, 1997 (first on DVD in 2005), United States, 70 min., Documentary

An edgy yet witty exploration of an enduring scientific and philosophical mystery: why do we age? And for that matter, why does anything in the material world change over time? And anyway, what does time mean in a biological sense? Every second, our cells are dying, while others are being reborn.  The pattern in which this happens tells the complex story of how we age physically; it is also the basis for scientific research into altering the genes that determine how long we live.

The story is told through a collage of metaphors and interviews with noted cellular biologists.  Using state-of-the-art micro-cinematography, the filmmakers employ an imaginative interplay of classic films, animation and research to make this a witty, fast-paced documentary on a topic that could have been deadly dull. They do this by playfully intercutting scientific images of cells with parallel scenes from human life: a hundred lighted violins, imploding skyscrapers, Busby Berkeley musicals, Harold Lloyd antics, pieces of film on the cutting room floor, and more. The result is an entertaining and enlightening film on an unlikely but fascinating subject.

Watch Online on YouTube:

movie-obachans-gardenOBAACHAN’S GARDEN, 2001, Canada, 94 min., Documentary
Recognitions: Most Popular Canadian Film, Vancouver 2001

Watch Online at the National Film Board of Candada:

This is the story of Obaachan (Grandmother) Asayo Murakami, now aged 103 and living in Calgary, who came to Canada from Hiroshima as a picture bride in 1923. The emotional impact of Hiroshima and her family’s subsequent forced relocation during the World War II, developed a woman strong in spirit and rich in history. Her granddaughter, Linda Ohama is the director, another granddaughter, actress Natsuko Ohama, plays Asayo as a young woman, and great granddaughter Caitlin Ohama-Darcus also makes an appearance. Asayo’s talent as a classical violinist pervades the score, her love of plants and gardens permeates the visuals and her strength and sense of humour provide a continuity to the film. And, prepare for a startling ending as the Canadian side of the family’s search for Asayo’s history turns up some startling revelations. A century of Japanese immigrant history is captured here alongside the personal story of a woman’s long-buried past. This is a story well worth hearing – graceful, emotional and ultimately inspiring.


This project was supported in part by The Shambhala Trust. You, too, can help by making a tax-deductable donation here. We gratefully acknowledge many contributions, written, artistic and financial.