Good Grief Short Film Festival

How do you create sensitive and authentic cinematic representations of grief? What can we learn from the process of creating films on grief? What can be learned from the different roles and positions involved?

In 2019, an Experimental Partnership project took place to explore ‘An Empathetic Realisation of Embodied Grief in Fiction Film’. It was undertaken to redress the fact at fiction cinema often relegates grief to a mere plot device. The project believed this leads to superficial depictions that fail to capture the lived experience of mourning in emotional, psychological and physical terms. Moreover, the researcher believed these screen depictions were misleading and dangerous, either negating the real impact of grief or constructing a mourning process that dissipates and ends. Academic discourses on grief and mourning have contested this model in favour of a more refined understanding of the highly complex and multifaceted experience of grief.  Therefore the researchers aimed to explore explore the potentials in representing grief in a more nuanced and phenomenologically-minded manner. They sought to capture the lived experience of grief in fiction film.

The team created two broadcast quality fiction films exploring embodied grief. The team worked together to represent the lived experience of grief through the collation of a wide range of experiences. This films explored the extent to which narrative, sound, and cinematic techniques that foreground sensory experience can capture the raw experience of grief. The films produced were Lost Property (Dawson, Hay, Rosling, 2022) and Nothing Echoes Here (Hay, 2022). And further films were produced in the associated projects ‘Creative Grieving’ and ‘Interpretation vs. Memory: Creative Approaches to an Autoethnographic Depiction of Grief’.

This project comprised the launch event for three Brigstow funded films to be part of the Good Grief Short Film Festival over Death and Dying Week.

What did the project involve? 

The project involved four lunchtime events involving film screenings and panel discussions.

Panel 1: Children, Grief and Creativity (Launch of Children, Grief and Creativity and Children, Grief and Art Therapy)

  • Panel members: Lesel Dawson, Julia Samuel MBE, Victoria Tolchard (Art Therapist) and Gary Andrews.
  • This panel examined the best ways support grieving children and explore whether children grieve differently from adults. It also considered how creativity can allow children to express their feelings and tell the story of their loss.
  • As part of this panel, the researchers showed two Brigstow-funded films:

Panel 2: The Stuff of Grief – Making Lost Property (Launch of Lost Property)

  • Panel members: Lesel Dawson, Jimmy Hay, Sarah Smither (Director of Photography), and Julie Cox (actress).
  • What happens when you take your personal experiences of grief and turn it into a film? Is making art therapeutic and what risks do such activities involve? This panel explored the process of making a collaborative co-produced film about grief. The researchers also thought about the way that objects take on new meanings in the grieving process, using the example of how objects and places that had personal significance to the creative team and were used in the film.
  • As part of this panel, they showed the Brigstow-funded film:
    • Lost Property

Panel 3: Nothing Echoes Here and the lived-experience of bereavement (Launch of Nothing Echoes Here)

  • Panel members: Jimmy Hay, Prof Rob Stone and Charlotte Mulliner (lead actor in film).
  • What are the ways you can capture the lived-experiences of grief in a film? How do you break away from some of the clichés about grief that you see in so many films. What are the film techniques that work best when trying to capture grief as a physical and emotional process?
  • As part of this panel, they showed the Brigstow-funded film:
    • Nothing Echoes Here

Panel 4: Bereavement During Covid-19 (Co-PI: Selman, Bristol Medical School)

  • Panel members: Dr Lucy Selman, Dr Emily Harrop, Ellie Harrison, Matt Rogers, and Julia Samuel MBE
  • This panel explored findings about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK on people’s bereavement experiences, grief, and support needs. Funded by a major ESRC grant, the project involved extensive stakeholder and policy engagement, with the PIs instrumental in establishing and advising a new UK Commission on Bereavement (4 papers to date – see:
  • The panel launched:
    • a new film commissioned from artist Ellie Harrison. Drawing on qualitative data from the project, the film will use flat-lay imaging to create a powerful and inclusive piece bringing home the realities of bereavement during the pandemic.

Who are the team and what do they bring?

  • Jimmy Hay (Film and Television, University of Bristol) is a filmmaker and lecturer with experience of UK-wide cinematic release. He brings his expertise in the fusion of theory and practice with audio-visual interrogation of cognition and emotion in filmmaking. Jimmy leads the Medical Humanities Cluster’s ‘Grief’ research strand.
  • Lesel Dawson (English, University of Bristol) is a researcher with a focus on the history of psychology, focusing on how representations of the experience of grief and the meanings attributed to it have changed over time. Lesel has published academic work on the history of emotions and on theatrical and cinematic representations of grief.
  • Victoria Tolchard is an Art Therapist with 10 years of experience as a practitioner, as well as several years experience in the fitness industry and an MA in Art Psychotherapy. Victoria focuses on the immersion of creative activities to process externally the experience of grief.
  • Gary Andrews is an illustrator, animator and director who began a ‘doodle a day’ diary after the unexpected death of his wife, Joy. Gary uses his work to share his experience of navigating life, family, and new relationships after the death of a spouse.
  • Sarah Smither is a Director of Photography with over 20 years’ experience in the camera department in broadcast, online and independent film across a wide range of genres.
  • Julie Cox is an actress living in Bristol who has worked on over 50 productions in film and television. Julie is best known for her role as Princess Irulan in the SciFi tv series of Frank Herbert’s Dune and Children of Dune, as well as Elsa Greer in Poirot’s Five Little Pigs, and The Oxford Murders with Elijah Wood. Their Good Grief Facilitator profile.
  • Rob Stone (Film and Creative Writing, University of Birmingham) is a researcher whose research and publications currently focus on the dynamics of World Cinema with particular emphasis on American Independent Cinema. Their research interests are in the overlap of philosophy, politics and aesthetics and they have also published extensively on Spanish, Basque and Cuban cinema.
  • Charlotte Mulliner is an actor based in Paris and is a graduate both the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff, and École Philippe Gaulier, Paris. She has performed extensively in both film and theatre, recently taking lead roles in The Tempest (2021) and Much Ado About Nothing (2020) at the Cygnet Theatre, Paris, and playing the role of Sophie in the feature film High Tide (2015). Their Good Grief Facilitator profile.
  • Lucy Selman (Population Health Sciences, Bristol Medical School) is an Associate Professor in the School of Population Health Sciences. Her research interests fall into two areas: the development and evaluation of complex clinical interventions, and palliative and end of life care and bereavement. She is currently conducting an NIHR Career Development Fellowship leading the OSCAR study (Optimising Staff-patient Communication in Advanced Renal disease). She is also Co-Principal Investigator on an ESRC-funded national study on bereavement during the COVID-19 pandemic (in collaboration with Dr Emily Harrop at Cardiff University), and the founding director of Good Grief Festival. She co-leads the University of Bristol Palliative and End of Life Care Research Group.
  • Julia Samuel is a psychotherapist specialising in grief and has worked as a bereavement counsellor in the NHS paediatrics department of St Mary’s Hospital. In 1994 she helped launch and establish Child Bereavement UK, and as founder patron, continues to play an active role in the charity. She has published multiple books on grief and recently launched a mobile application to help the bereaved navigate their grief. Julia Samuel’s Website.
  • Emily Harrop is a Marie Curie Research Fellow at Cardiff University. She is a qualitative palliative care researcher with a background in the social sciences. Her research interests are; bereavement care and experiences; the support needs of family carers; patient and family experiences of living with advanced illnesses; patient experiences of clinical trials and service innovation and evaluation in palliative and end of life care.
  • Matt Rogers is an award winning multi disciplinary artist working across Theatre, Photography and Film. He is a founder member of 2 touring theatre companies (Chotto Ookii and Uncanny theatre respectively). Matt also works as a dramaturg, documentor and mentor on other people’s projects. Regular collaborators include Ellie Harrison and The Grief Series, Closed Forum, Discerning Nights and Lydia Cottrell.
  • Ellie Harrison is an artist living in Leeds and working internationally. She is artistic director of the acclaimed Grief Series, a sequence of seven arts projects that open up spaces to talk about bereavement and end of life. Ellie specialises in embedding care and participation is at the heart of all of her work as a performer, facilitator and mentor.

What were the results?

The intended results of this project were the holding of the above described film screenings and discussion panels which occurred in May 2022 as part of the Good Grief Festival

These panels formed a cultural and academic opportunity for the public to reconsider their relationship to death and grief as well as the manner in which media and film can affect and mediate that relationship. These events are available to watch on The Good Grief Chanel Archive