By Alex Gonzalez
When director Katrine Philp’s sister-in-law grew to become sick, she felt despair and disappointment watching her household grapple with the emotional ache. Her sister-in-law was affected by what Philp describes as “micro organism working berserk in her physique” and whereas she survived, Philp says her restoration was a prolonged, strenuous course of.
“I watched how she was struggling along with her life, whereas my brother and their three kids had been by her aspect, for a really, very, very very long time,” Philp tells MTV Information. “It was very exhausting for the whole household. I watched my household, and I may see their powerlessness.”
Watching this battle “planted the seed” for Philp’s Stunning One thing Left Behind, from MTV Documentary Movies, that follows a bunch of youngsters as every of them course of the loss of life of 1 or each dad and mom. The thought grew as Philp heard a narrative much like the one she skilled whereas listening to an episode of NPR’s “This American Life” about organizations that assist these grieving. That’s how she found Good Grief, a nonprofit offering psychological well being sources to bereaved kids and their households primarily based in Morristown, New Jersey.
Philp chatted with CEO Joe Primo through Skype in Could 2018, lengthy earlier than video chatting grew to become the brand new regular within the age of COVID-19. Manufacturing on the movie was accomplished earlier than the pandemic struck, however its launch is extra well timed than ever, because the world emerges from a second of collective trauma. Primo instantly fell in love with Philp’s imaginative and prescient, citing her “gentleness and heat” as causes he trusted her to movie on the facility. “I feel her character is a lot what makes up the movie and makes it as stunning as it’s,” Primo tells MTV Information.
Good Grief was based in 2004 by a bunch of volunteers who needed to function advocates for grieving kids. Right this moment, the nonprofit provides help teams for youngsters who’ve misplaced dad and mom, in addition to for surviving adults. Moreover, they coordinate actions for youngsters, as Philp tenderly showcases all through the movie, like establishing headstones in a sandbox, blowing off steam in a “volcano room” the place they will cry and scream once they can’t discover the phrases to precise their emotions, and saying goodbye to a teddy bear affected person in a hospital room.
Whereas it might be comforting to inform a baby that their mother or father has gone to heaven, Good Grief takes a extra direct and secular strategy to elucidate loss of life, permitting the kid to course of the truth that their mother or father will not be current bodily.
“At Good Grief, we speak about loss of life being a organic occasion,” Primo says. “I’ve heard a number of iterations the place anyone will say, ‘Mommy is in heaven,’ however then a day or two later, they’re standing round a coffin, in a cemetery. Everyone’s crying and the kid is like, ‘Wait, if Mommy’s in heaven, who’s within the field? Why are we right here? What is that this about?’ And that is due to how adults educate and discuss to kids about loss of life.”
Philp’s husband, Adam Morris Philp, served because the movie’s cinematographer. Over the course of a yr, they visited Good Grief [from their home in Copenhagen] 3 times every week, speaking to children in this system. Over the last 4 months of filming, they moved to Morristown, bringing their two kids with them.
Whereas filming, their kids would stay behind the scenes, however when the cameras had been off, they performed with the Good Grief children. “When you find yourself portraying households in a type of conditions, you possibly can think about how tough it may very well be to have a movie crew there,” Philp says. “I feel coming there as a household and never as a crew helped loads to realize their belief and to have them relaxed within the state of affairs and to get near them.”
In the course of the manufacturing of Stunning One thing Left Behind in 2018, Philp’s father died unexpectedly. As a baby, she remembers being near him, by no means leaving his aspect. She didn’t count on she must course of her personal loss whereas documenting the youngsters, giving her a brand new admiration for the power of the youngsters to be open about their very own losses. Navigating that collectively felt therapeutic, inspiring her to inform the story from the youngsters’s perspective.
“I feel that the youngsters within the movie present us what we have to learn about grief,” Philp says. “I had the sensation that afterward, folks may Google [Good Grief] and ask, ‘Are there any [similar] locations close to me?’ It was vital for me to make this movie as a journey into the grief of the youngsters. Grief is just not a linear course of. It is far more like fragments. And generally you are pleased and all the things is sweet, and the subsequent second you are unhappy. So I needed to additionally to work with the construction of the movie, and be impressed by the voice of the youngsters.”
The movie captures the youngsters in varied uncooked states of emotional restoration. Some can’t get via group conferences with out crying; others admit that they haven’t cried. In a single scene, a boy who has misplaced each his dad and mom sends two balloons into the sky, seemingly as much as heaven to his dad and mom. One balloon “for Mommy” will get caught in a tree, and his guardian tells him, “Mommy needed her balloon to stick with you for a short time.”
Stunning One thing Left Behind received SXSW’s Grand Jury Prize for Greatest Documentary final yr, the place it was initially set to premiere earlier than the convention was canceled as a result of onset of the coronavirus. The pandemic has additionally affected operations at Good Grief, the place kids and adults haven’t been capable of have in-person conferences. In line with Primo, the nonprofit instantly pivoted to a digital platform through the early days of lockdown. For his or her summer time camp, which is historically held over a week-long interval in August, it held a digital camp through the entirety of final yr’s summer time months.
The previous yr was one in every of loss for many individuals, and Philp hopes Stunning One thing Left Behind encourages viewers to speak immediately about their feelings and attain out to people who find themselves struggling. When her father died, Philp says folks would keep away from speaking about her father as a method to be delicate about her loss. This, nevertheless, made Philp really feel extra lonely.
“I feel that we should be there for one another, look after one another, and present all of the compassion that we will,” Philp says. “As a result of once you’re in grief, it’s so isolating. it may be such an isolating feeling for those who’re not sharing it with anyone. I actually hope that this movie will make us all braver after we encounter individuals who have misplaced, and never be afraid of speaking about our feelings and sharing our experiences.”