Still Loved documentary Wins ‘Award of Excellence’ in Impact DOCS Awards Competition
Sheffield based Debbie Howard of Big Buddha Films has won a prestigious Award of Excellence, from The Impact DOCS Awards Competition. The award was given for Debbie Howard’s compelling documentary Still Loved, which explores the complexity and reality for families surviving baby loss. Giving an unexpected voice to bereaved fathers, who speak candidly for the first time providing an additional perspective to that offered by mothers, grandparents and siblings. This is a brave, inclusive and ultimately life affirming film, for anyone that has ever, or will ever, lose someone they love.
“We are thrilled to receive this award. Still Loved has been an incredibly challenging film to make due to the stigma and taboo surrounding stillbirth. Our team have worked passionately on this film for three years working closely with the seven families featured in the film. After being told many times not to make this film and that there is no audience for it, we released the film into cinemas last year to packed houses and many sold out screenings. We received fantastic reviews in the press and receiving this award is a great endorsement for us. Unless people see this film, attitudes towards baby loss won’t change, and it desperately needs to. We hope now that one of the national television channels will be courageous enough to broadcast this film so that it reaches a wider audience and breaks the silence around baby loss, which affects thousands of families every year. Thanks so much for this incredible award.” – Director, Debbie Howard.
★★★★ The Guardian “Remarkable Candour”
★★★★★ Vulture Hound “Vital viewing”
Impact DOCS recognizes film, television, videography and new media professionals who demonstrate exceptional achievement in craft and creativity, and those who produce standout entertainment or contribute to profound social change. Documentaries were received from 30 countries, including veteran award winning filmmakers and fresh new talent. Entries were judged by highly qualified and award winning professionals in the film and television industry.
In winning an Impact DOCS award, Big Buddha Films joins the ranks of other high-profile winners of this internationally respected award including the Oscar winning director Louie Psihoyos for his 2016 Best of Show – Racing Extinction, Oscar winner Yael Melamede for (Dis)Honesty – The Truth About Lies, and Emmy Award winner Gerald Rafshoon for Endless Corridors narrated by Oscar winner Jeremy Irons, and many more.
Rick Prickett, who chairs Impact DOCS, had this to say about the latest winners,“The judges and I were simply blown away by the variety and immensely important documentaries we screened. Impact DOCS is not an easy award to win. Entries are received from around the world from powerhouse companies to remarkable new talent. Impact DOCS helps set the standard for craft and creativity as well as power catalysts for global change. The goal of Impact DOCS is to help winners achieve the recognition they deserve for their dedication and work.”
We’re delighted that Still Loved won the ‘Best Documentary’ award at High Peak Independent Film Festival this weekend. With tough competition from some other feature docs, we’re thrilled to have been honoured with this award, giving recognition to the film and also to stillbirth and baby loss.
Big thanks to Festival Director Nicole Pott and her team at HPIFF 2017 for their hard work and hospitality at this festival.
On the 30th May, Women in Film and TV UK featured an interview with Director, Debbie Howard about the making of her feature documentary, Still Loved.
We all know that getting a film made is not easy. But once you’ve achieved that part, what about the Herculean effort needed to get it out into the world?
Over the last few years WFTV has been keeping a keen eye on the progress of Still Loved, the debut feature-length documentary from former WFTV mentee Debbie Howard (above centre). The film explores the complex reality for families surviving baby loss. It’s a brave and moving documentary but – because of its challenging subject matter – it’s not an easy sell.
Undeterred, Debbie has used a number of different strategies to build an audience for the film and make sure its important message does not go unheard. So WFTV decided to catch up with her shortly after Still Loved‘s DVD release to find out how she’s done it and what tips she would pass on to fellow-filmmakers trying to get their film seen.
“From the very beginning I was told repeatedly not to make this film. People said ‘There is no audience. People won’t watch it. It’s too sad.’”
You can read the full article on the WFTV UK website here.
Why is stillbirth such a conversation stopper in a society that sees 7,000 babies born dead every day? That’s the question posed in a vital new feature documentary called Still Loved, which investigates the meagre support system provided to the families affected by this issue, giving them a much-needed voice.
Three years in the making, the film begins with a candle-lit vigil on International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day commemorating these children, attended by the parents and siblings who have experienced the tragedy of stillbirth. Comprising interviews that expose the emptiness and loneliness that these parents felt following their heartbreaking ordeals, director Debbie Howard seeks to offset the deafening silence that characterises their experiences. By doing so, she reveals a shocking negligence of support both professionally and personally over a topic stigmatised by what the stiff upper-lip’s of this world dub embarrassing emotionality.
Still Loved demonstrates that the physical loss of a baby is not considered in conjunction with the mental support these parents urgently need in order to cope with the passing of a child they’d created, developed a relationship with, and who had died in the hours it was anticipated that he or she would be welcomed into the world. More than a lack of closure, there is a distinct lack of compassion for the unexpected and often sudden news that their baby won’t survive, even down to definitions. One woman’s birth was signed off as an abortion, another as a stillbirth when medical negligence was the true culprit.
Hope, however, prevails, as it follows the families in their recovery, documenting the different coping mechanisms they individually apply. One starts a charity, one chairs a charity, one refuses to have another child. The process of moving on is hard, but we witness that too, as the families continue to honour their offspring’s memory. In a time of celebrating an exciting new hello, stillbirth is a poignant, shattering goodbye, and Still Loved rights a wrong in educating audiences on the importance of treating the subject with the action and compassion it deserves.
Our documentary, Still Loved, was reviewed in The Lancet today. Written by Alice Jolly.
You can read the full review here but you need to register to access the full article.
Or read below:
Every year, throughout the world, 2·6 million babies are stillborn. That is about the equivalent of the population of Rome. Although I myself am a bereaved mother and stillbirth campaigner, I still find myself struggling to accept this number. But it comes from The Lancet itself, which published a Series aimed at ending preventable stillbirths earlier this year. Still Loved, a full length documentary film about the impact of stillbirth for affected families, begins with a quote from The Lancet‘s Richard Horton: “This is one of the most neglected, marginalised and stigmatised issues in global health today.”
So given this background of denial and disbelief, how is it that Still Loved is now playing in cinemas up and down the UK? Largely it is due to the courage of film-maker Debbie Howard, from the Sheffield-based film company Big Buddha Films. She initially tried to raise money for the film through the usual channels. Finding that no-one was interested, she spent 4 years crowdfunding the film. When she approached cinemas some told her, with a remarkable lack of tact, that no-one would be interested in that kind of film. But other cinemas were prepared to take the risk. Some screenings of the film are now being followed by question and answer sessions. Those who have seen the film are often shocked but also impressed.
It is certainly true that Still Loved is a film that pulls no punches. It looks in forensic detail at seven bereaved families in the UK over 3 years. These couples talk in intimate detail about what actually happens when a baby dies. They speak about medical procedures, thoughts and feelings, practicalities, the intensity of their pain.
The film is beautifully shot and cuts smoothly from one issue to another. The scenes seem paradoxically to be both grittily realistic and strangely other-worldly. The music adds to the haunting and haunted atmosphere. Particularly effective is the use of slightly shaky home shot footage taken by the families themselves which creates an unsettling and painful claustrophobia. Overall, the result takes us over the boundaries of documentary and into the realms of art.
The home shot footage also, inevitably, includes actual images of babies who are dead or dying. The decision not to draw back from these images is particularly courageous but also challenging. It is only in recent years that such images have been seen anywhere, let alone on cinema screens. What they do is bring home the simple fact that these are real lives—lives that could have lasted many years—but are now lost.
So the film is certainly devastatingly accurate but what can we learn from it? What I saw, above all else, is how important ritual becomes in times of extreme adversity. In a now largely secular society, rituals have to be reinvented. We watch as mourners use teddy bears, wind chimes, and named blankets to make domestic shrines. Photograph albums and memory boxes are created with a near-religious intensity. We watch as one couple struggles with the question of how to hold a first birthday party for a baby who is not there, and applaud the brave friends who stand in the back garden listening to speeches and letting go of balloons.
Denial and silence are also a significant part of the lived experience. One of the most moving moments in the film comes when one of the bereaved fathers says, with quiet dignity, that he always makes an effort to attend the birthday parties organised by friends who have living children. Yet most of those same friends have never asked where his son is buried. Also, a mother shows the photograph of her dead babies which are proudly displayed in her front room. She then tells the story of a visitor to the house who asked for the photographs to be turned to face the wall.
But finally is the film too claustrophobic? Should it have moved beyond these specific stories to ask bigger questions about why so many babies are stillborn? After all, in the UK about half of unexplained stillbirths might be linked to poor medical care. Should the film not have included more about understaffed maternity wards, lack of sufficient scanning, poor recording of information?
On balance, I tend to think not. Ultimately, the narrow focus of the film is its strength. All those wider questions are there but it is the viewer who has to consider them. This is that rare film which actually manages to be highly political without ever mentioning politics. All that Debbie Howard—and those seven families—are doing is simply asking that we should see.
This may seem a rather limited ambition but as writer James Baldwin says, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” That sadly tells you all you need to know about why the rate of stillbirths in the UK remains stubbornly high.
Yet this situation is not devoid of hope. Things are changing—slowly. The fact that a film such as Still Loved has been made can be understood as part of a wider—and positive—shift in attitudes to death. Look at the surprise success in the UK of Death Cafés and of the Dying Matters coalition with its simple slogan, “Let’s Talk About It”. Both are evidence that we are realising that endless “feel good” stories do not make us feel good in the longer term. You cannot live fully if you are not also able to accept death. Emotional authenticity may have more to offer us than the coercive mantra of “positive thinking”.
The families shown in Still Loved have so much to teach us—not just about stillbirths but about bereavement and adversity more generally. No-one in the film talks about “moving on” or “getting over it”. Instead they are interested in how life and death can be integrated. They all discover in different ways how we can keep our loved one alive—not as a reason for endless mourning but rather as a source of inspiration, courage, and continuing love for the living.
Still Loved also makes clear—by showing the comfort offered by family and friends—that we all have a role to play in this. The medical profession may be on the front line but if wider society is going to deal better with stillbirths and death, we have to work on the problem as a community. At this time of year we could ditch all those ghastly trick or treat sweets, and the rubber skeletons, and take a walk in the local cemetery instead, honouring our own dead and that greater mass of the dead who all contributed in some way to the world we now live in. Or more simply, but more courageously, we could just take the time to ask a bereaved friend if they would like to share some photographs or memories.
Interestingly, research from the University of Oxford University has suggested that weeping in the cinema might actually make us feel better. Apparently, it increases feelings of group bonding and raises levels of endorphins in the brain. So get yourself along to a screening of Still Loved and have a good cry. You might feel much better for it. You could also sign the petition on the film’s website that has been set up to persuade broadcasters to show the film on television. Most of us want to live in a world where all the stories are heard, even the ones which are challenging. But sadly those who supply our “culture” often decide we need protecting from the reality of the world we are living in. Thankfully, Debbie Howard and the families who feature in Still Loved want to share experiences of stillbirth and tell it like it is—pushing the issue of stillbirths into the mainstream. But we have a long way to go and the road ahead is all uphill.