I finally had the chance to watch 65_RedRoses after having heard about it over the last 6 months since it blew everyone away the Vancouver International Film Festival.
65_RedRoses has popped up in the local Vancouver news every once in a while, providing updates about Eva, the cystic fibrosis patient that the documentary is about.
This morning, I stumbled upon CBC’s stream of the film on The Passionate Eye. Excited to have found the film, I also found an update that the film. Eva ended her battle with Cystic Fibrosis just two days ago and found peace.
Knowing this, I feared it would change my interpretation of the film. In some ways it did, for it is hard to share the joyful moments knowing the ultimate outcome and the sad moments seem to linger a little longer. However what comes across is the friendship and intimacy the filmmakers have with Eva, her family, and her medical team.
In the first few minutes Eva opens her heart and tears build in her eyes. At first it is somewhat jolting, but then I was reminded that all films are a record of the relationship between filmmaker and subject (sarah elder 1991) and this scene not only expresses Eva’s perspective about her situation but her trust in the filmmakers and especially her commitment to sharing her experiences with the world.
The film explores the role the internet plays in Eva’s life by creating friendship and her laptop as her constant outlet. The open access of the filmmakers to Eva’s family and operating room is amazing and could only have been done because of the friendships built both before and during filming. I commend the film for succeeding in what Bill Nichols names the goal of every documentary: to create a space for dialogue. In this case about life, death, transplants, illness, friendship and love.
But what I what perplexes me as a filmmaker is life after film. Here Eva’s story went on. Her life not only shaped the film, but in turn the film shaped her life. As her battles continued, the film brought new attention and support to her blog.
“Her blog continued her story in her own story in her own terms” the director Nimisha Mukerji told CBC radio today. I think that is an insightful summary of the difference between the film and Eva’s blog. The film is a powerful story about Eva’s experience, but having spent the last few hours exploring Eva’s video and blog posts from the last few months, I have to say the film documents her story; the blog is Eva’s story!
It provides insights into how she saw and shared the world that may be lost in the powerful narrative of her transplant experience.
As a filmmaker, the events after the film’s completion leave me wondering if we should ever really be done with a film we have made. In my own work I have been told I need to create an update, that people want to know more about the youth who shared their lives on film. For 65_RedRoses, the happy note on which the film ends is one story, Eva’s experience since then is another story.
But it also speaks to the power of mixed media. Tonight I watched the film online, I googled and found her blog, the posts made by her family, and the CBC radio interview with the director made this morning. All of that is Eva’s story. The film makes Eva’s written words more powerful, and her self shot webcam video becomes the most powerful statement to the young woman’s spirit.
However the cold statement that ends the Passionate Eye screening is disturbing. The CBC announcer reads a written statement that appears in white letters on a black screen, announcing Eva’s continuing battle. It’s so disconnected from the story from the people and events that is both cold and harsh; destroying the love and spirit the film expressed. In seconds destroys the collaboration between Eva, her family, friends and the filmmakers that builds the spirit and message of the film. It pains me to think that those words will soon be updated once more to coldly announce this week’s events. It would be crushing for a film that embraces audiences with Eva’s smile to hear of her passing in that way.
And so I hope the filmmakers do add and addendum to the film. A minute or two that celebrates Eva’s life and the hopeful lens through which she celebrated the love that surrounded her, both from her friends, family and the strangers who read her blog.
Documentaries are about people who live on after we filmmakers decide we have a final cut and we should still have a responsibility to them and their family. Especially in a film like this, where so much is wrapped up in the embodiment of the person and as the directors admit she was their number one collaborator. It is a disservice to Eva that the last the audience expericnes is a disconnected voice atop a cold harsh text. I hope when it re-screens on the Passionate Eye this Friday the ending will be different. At the very least her speech for the Totrono Chapter Cystic Fibrosis gala is a wonderful summary of Eva’s perspective and experiences that she wanted to share .
And thank you to 65_RedRoses for sharing your story and being a beacon for how, through the internet and film, one story can touch so many. And thank you to her family for bravely accompanying Eva on her journey and allowing the rest of us to experience her spirit in film, text, webblog, and all it’s different forms.