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.
Next week sees the release of Still Loved, a groundbreakingly honest documentary exploring baby loss. One of the parents in the film, Bethany Morris, shared her story with us.
Posted on 23/09/2016
“It’s OK, you can have another one.”
Those were the words that are so often uttered by means of consolation to families who’ve lost a child or children during pregnancy. Perhaps before we lost our precious twins, Harriet and Felicity, I might have unwittingly used them myself, had I been faced with a situation of baby loss. But hearing those words not a week after our loss made me realise something. They made me realise that the loss of a baby is a lonely, desolate experience. Nobody seems to understand or dare to try.
If, like ours, a baby is lost before it is born, to most people that baby doesn’t seem real, as they didn’t know it as a person. They had not spent months planning a future for their bump, they hadn’t agonised over names, they hadn’t seen that baby come to life on an ultrasound screen, talked to the bump, felt it kick, played it music.
To them it was merely a bump, a bump that can be replaced. Funny, isn’t it: if someone’s brother, mother, friend died, you wouldn’t tell them it’s OK, you can have another, would you?
“One in four pregnancies results in a loss and every day just in the UK 10 families are devastated by stillbirth. We should not have felt so alone in our loss, but we did.”
After giving birth to my silent little girls, it was this loneliness that I found so hard. I couldn’t be with my friends anymore; I was scared to leave the house in case I saw other babies or pregnant women; I couldn’t even be with my family as their lives were continuing while mine felt as though it had fallen in to a dark pit.
But my girls made me find the strength. I refused to be quiet; I didn’t want to pretend they weren’t real. As they were born before 24 weeks they didn’t get a birth certificate. Technically they never even existed, so I wanted to make sure people knew about them and how special they were. To talk about them, to make their lives matter, even if that made people uncomfortable.
It was this need to create a legacy for my daughters, a need to make their voices heard and their lives matter that led my husband and I to share our experience as part of the Still Loved film. To break the silence of baby loss. The film is an uplifting story celebrating the resilience of the human spirit and exploring the complexity and reality for families surviving baby loss.
One in four pregnancies results in a loss and every day just in the UK 10 families are devastated by stillbirth (loss after 24 weeks). We should not have felt so alone in our loss, but we did.
By sharing the very personal journeys of a number of families through grief, despair, determination and hope, the production company Big Buddha Films is giving a voice to this important issue and by doing so, we hope, making people more aware and more understanding.
Through our work on the film and through social media I found others who knew how this felt. Others who could help me see that one day there would be light again. People who helped my husband and I create a voice for Hattie and Flic and to spend our lives raising money to help prevent other babies being lost.
Our daughters have made me who I am now, and I am grateful to them for showing how to treasure what really matters. Please support your local screening of Still Loved and help us break the silence of baby loss. It is a story of hope in adversity and it may prepare you to have real empathy one day if you need to.
Still Loved will be in cinemas from 4 October and available on digital from 1 November. October is Baby Loss Awareness Month.
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.
Tomorrow, 12th June, is the start of the Sheffield Doc Fest and we’ll be there bright and early to begin an exciting week.
We’ll be watching lots of films of course, but also having many meetings about our new documentary Still Loved
We had a pre festival meeting tonight with Elhum Shakerifar from Birds Eye View Film Festival, who was incredibly helpful. Tomorrow morning we’re meeting Emily Best from Seed and Spark to discuss crowdfunding and new ways of getting films out to audiences. Later in the week we’ll be meeting with Oli Harbottle, Head of Distribution at Dogwoof, Sheri Candler, digital marketing strategist, Beatrice Neumann, Acquisitions at The Works Film Group, Peter Gerard CEO at Distrify, Lindsey Keith from The Refinery and Editor Suzie Brand, as well as many other filmmakers, distributors, and Producers. We’ll also be pitching at the mini meet market on Friday and attending the Roundtable mulit platform event. It’s going to be a busy and exciting week and we (Colin Pons, Polly Perkins and Debbie Howard) are really looking forward to it. Let’s go!
I’m very excited to be beginning the shoot of our first feature length film in three days time. This Sunday we start our shoot of Still Loved, our feature documentary about baby loss.
We will be shooting phase one of our production. This will be aprroximately ten days of shooting. Mainly following the Born Silently Cycle Challenge, and then some filming with Mel Scott, author of After Finley and her partner Baz.
Together with some footage we already have we will then be editing together our Pilot/Teaser and trying to raise money to begin phase two of our production in January 2013.
Thanks to all the team at Big Buddha for getting us this far. Special thanks to Colin Pons, Emma Dalesman, Grant Bridgeman, Amy Garrod, Isla Baddanoch, Cat Marshall and Peter Fraser. And all our wonderful sponsors, especially Christine Bell, Vanessa Thatcher and Alice Jolly.
We had great fun screening The Girl with the World in Her Hair at Showcomotion Young People’s Film Festival last week. Our film screened twice before the feature On The Sly. Both films starred a real family, were narrated by the central female child and were very charming.
Our main actress, Jasmine Givnan and I, did a Q&A with children from Concord School in Sheffield. This was lovley and kids came really well prepared with fantastic questions. But the best one for me was when a little boy eagerly put up his hand, patiently waited for the microphone to be brought over to him and then asked “Can we have lunch now?”! Brilliant!
Thanks to the Showcomotion team for putting on a great festival which I was proud to be part of.
Peekaboo had it’s first industry preview screening at The Showroom Cinema, Sheffield, yesterday, where large audienced gathered to watch the film. You could have heard a pin drop during the screening, and by the end there were very few dry eyes in the house.
After the screening Debbie Howard (Writer/Producer/Director) took part in a Q&A with Colin Pons, Producer with Studio of North and 104 Films. The response to the film was overwhelming, there was so much positive feedback it took a good hour and half to leave the building.
Comments were made on the strong performances of the actors, subtlety of the script and delicate handling of the subject matter, stillbirth, the outstanding Sound Design and Score, the stunning cinematophraphy and much more. Debbie was absolutely delighted with the response to the film, it was better then she could have hoped for. She is now preparing for the London preview which is at The Electric Cinema on June 8th.
Peekaboo is now being submitted to film festivals world wide, and Big Buddha Films are hopeful that it will be as well received there.
Thanks to everyone that came along to the screening and helped us get the film made.
I’m delighted to say that I came back from Directors Cut Films in London yesterday with a bag full of masters of Peekaboo. We have HD Cam SR tapes in PAL and NTSC, Blu Ray DVD’S and Digi Beta tapes in PAL and NTSC. We test screened in their screening room and they’re looking great now. So we’re good to go for our previews and ready to start submitting to festivals later this week.
Next up we need to get lots of copies of DVD and Blu Ray made at Vision Mix in Sheffield, ready to post out to our sponsors.
It’s a wonderful feeling to have finally got Peekaboo finished, and once again, thank you to every single person that has helped us do this. Lets hope it’s a great success!
You can read the whole article which was published in the Yorkshire Post this week about Peekaboo here. Catherine Scott interviewed myself, Lesley Sharp and Shaun Dooley about the film. They showed lots of film stills in the paper too. Big thanks to Catherine Scott for the interview, to the cast and to Rachel McWatt for doing our PR and setting this up.