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.
We’re delighted that there was a special screening of our documentary, Still Loved for MPs in the Houses of Parliament on the 13th March at 7pm.
Organised by Will Quince MP of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Baby Loss and Tony Perkins MP, who are working hard to raise awareness of babyloss and hope to help us get Still Loved out to as wide an audience as possible and on TV.
Big thanks to Will and Toby for organising this event and let’s hope it helps to break the silence around stillbirth and baby loss. Thank you very much to all the MPs that attended the screening.
Here are some feedback tweets:
Will Quince MP @willquince
Please ask your MP to join me in writing to the BBC Director General asking that the BBC screen the @StillLovedDoc documentary on #babyloss
Greg Mulholland @GregMulholland1
Tonight I joined @willquince & MPs to watch @StillLovedDoc, a deeply moving & remarkable film on #stillbirth #babyloss. Show it @bbctrust!
Will Quince MP @willquince
@MarcusInStroud @StillLovedDoc @BigBuddhaFilms it really is very special, moving personal accounts from very brave people.
Mark Durkan MP @markdurkan
Viewed powerful @StillLovedDoc on #babyloss by @BigBuddhaFilms in HoC tonight. Back @willquince call on BBC to rethink screening refusal.
Will Quince MP @willquince
I will be writing to the BBC Director General to encourage the BBC to show @StillLovedDoc and help break the silence on #babyloss, will you?
Gill Furniss MP @GillFurnissMP
Very moving film thanks @willquince
Will Quince MP @willquince
It was my pleasure to host a screening of the hugely moving and important film @StillLovedDoc by @BigBuddhaFilms tonight. BBC must show it.
Alice Jolly @JollyAlice
@GillFurnissMP @willquince A sincere thank you for your support of @StillLovedDoc @BigBuddhaFilms We need MPs to help us #endstillbirths
Child Bereavement UK @cbukhelp
Thank you @willquince for inviting us to the screening of @StillLovedDoc. A powerful and moving film looking at the impact of a baby’s death
Victoria Morgan @victoriaRM6
Off to see #StillLoved – being screened by the APPG on Baby Loss. Tissues at the ready. Thanks for arranging @willquince #endstillbirth
Will Quince MP @willquince
@StillLovedDoc my pleasure, we must get this film screened on the BBC. It really is beautiful and so moving. #notadryeyeinthehouse
The tragedy of one in four pregnancies is that it ends in a loss which can include miscarriage, ectopic pregnancies and stillbirths.
But the stigma of talking about the death of babies means that parents are suffering in silence.
International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day falls on October 15, and it’s a time when those who have lived through the pain of losing their child at birth hope their stories will give strength to others.
Mum Lou’s son says that her first child, a son named Finley, was 10 weeks premature and spent a long period in the neonatal unit.
“I had this feeling of doom,” she says. “As the pregnancy progressed I was more more and depressed and more and more anxious.”
On January 9, 2009, when Lou was 36 weeks pregnant she suddenly became aware that he was in a lot of pain in her abdomen coming in waves.
Believing she had gone into labour, she leaped up and thought her waters broke. Running upstairs to tell her husband, Matt, she said: “The baby’s coming, the baby’s coming.”
He turned to her and, Lou says: “My jeans were soaked in blood.”
Lou says she was in a state of denial and was laughing and joking with the paramedics, but she was really in shock about what was happening.
She wasn’t the only one struggling with the horrific reality: “Something in Matt just snapped. He was like a wild animal. He was howling, thumping his head, thumping the walls.
“For the moment, I forgot the terrible labour pain I was in and the midwife had to focus on him.”
Matt said he had to leave and apologised to Lou.
She recalls: “The only saving grace of it was that my labour with Lauren was very brief and because she had only died a few hours before she was born, her appearance was not of a baby who had died.
“She just looked a little bit paler than normal, but it really just was of a baby who was asleep.”
Lou is just one of seven mums – and dads – who have shared their tragic stories with the makers of a new documentary which examines those families who have heartbreak visited upon them when a baby is stillborn.
Called Still Loved, the film – released to coincide with Baby Loss Awareness Month – follows seven couples, showing their stories of stillbirth and providing a profound insight into the effects of the death of a baby.
The documentary, from Big Buddha Films , gives a voice to all those affected, from bereaved mothers to often-overlooked fathers, many of whom open up about their experience for the first time ever on camera.
This is a brave, inclusive and important film for all, not just those with first-hand experience of baby loss.
Beth and Steve tell the heartbreaking story of the loss of Felicity and Harriet, their twins – although, when they first found out Beth was pregnant: “We had no idea that our little miracle was actually two.”
On July 2, 2012, while staying in Yorkshire, Beth went into labour at 21 weeks, and the babies did not survive.
“There was no hope for either of them,” Beth remembers. “You could see on the scan they were struggling.”
“[Medical staff] came in to explain our options. We could either wait for contractions to come on or they needed to induce so that I was OK. The induction is essentially an abortion, and that’s what they made me sign for.”
The babies were born together, which Beth says “gave us a bit of comfort”.
Beth adds: “I am a mum and [Steve’s] a dad, but we don’t have any children.”
Couple Juliette and Matt were thrilled when they found out that they were expecting a boy, and say the pregnancy was not a difficult one.
Ben was stillborn on November 26 weighing 6lbs.
“Small but perfectly formed, we like to say,” Juliette smiles.
Although she spent time with Ben and bathed him, Matt admits it was something he stepped back from.
“I couldn’t be there for that, I said to myself ‘I don’t think I can cope with that’. I went outside and spoke to my parents.
“To this day, I regret not doing that.
“We had four hours with Ben, which was lovely.”
Juliette adds: “You find yourself making a lifetime of memories in a very very short space of time.”
Following the loss, Matt admits he ‘felt a lot of anger’ and was expected just to get on with his life regardless.
Still Loved is supported by Tommy’s, the baby charity which funds research into stillbirth, miscarriage and pregnancy complications.
The film’s director Debbie Howard says that despite the taboos surrounding stillbirths, “the parents were very happy to finally have a voice”.
“When a baby dies, it’s still a baby. It’s still a child that is loved, cherished and wanted.
“Parents feel they can’t talk about their baby because other people don’t know how to cope with it.”
Debbie says that it wasn’t hard to find families who wanted to share their stories, and we should encourage this openness.
“We’re really bad at talking about death and grief in our society, we’re closed about that sort of thing. And it’s massively heightened when it comes to the death of a baby.
“People don’t know the statistics and they fail to realise that it’s someone’s child who has died, someone’s baby.
“You’ve thought about names, talked about them with their siblings, you’ve thought about and planned future events, and then your child dies.”
Debbie says that a pregnancy is no guarantee that parents will end up with a live baby, and the statistics show that their are many parents like those in the documentary.
“The anticipation means people have decorated nurseries, bought clothes and pushchairs, and then are left with all that stuff. It’s heartbreaking.
“What do you do with all that stuff after the baby is gone?
“And what does it mean if it was your first child – you ask yourself ‘am I a mum or a dad?’, ‘am I a parent if my baby has not survived?’.”
The film has a digital release on November 1. For further information, visit the website .
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.
Ten years ago next February, my friends Tim and Laura had their first daughter, Charlotte. They had three daughters after her, Emily, Isabelle and Florence, who never knew their big sister, as she died at 41 weeks of gestation. I will never forget Charlotte’s funeral: the roses on the coffin, the rows of old friends holding each other tightly by the hands. It seemed unimaginable that this could have happened to our two lovely friends, and shocking to find, all these years later, how common an experience stillbirth still is.
Ten babies are stillborn every day in Britain; in 2014, the last year for which there are Office of National Statistics figures, this amounted to 3,563 deaths. Just as shockingly, Britain ranks 21st out of 35 of the world’s wealthy nations in terms of its stillbirth rates, and there is a stark variation in those rates across the country (it differs from 4.1 to 7.1 out of 1,000 births, with Black and Asian women being more at risk, as well as women living in poverty). The reasons babies die are frustratingly hard to pin down. Placental problems in late pregnancy is one issue, which is not currently checked in routine antenatal monitoring. A third of stillbirths remain “unexplained”, with more investment to find out why being desperately needed.
Nevertheless, the subject of stillbirth, and wider issues surrounding neonatal injury and safety, are starting to be discussed in much more prominent places. Next week, they are being debated in parliament for the first time during Baby Loss Awareness Week, thanks in part to two MPs: Antoinette Sandbach, whose 5-day-old son, Sam, died in 2009, and Will Quince, whose second child, Robert, was stillborn in 2014.
Baby loss is also being explored on the big screen in director Debbie Howard’s new documentary, Still Loved, which takes us through three years in the lives of seven families who lost children before or shortly after birth. It is an important, bracing film, and refreshingly gives lots of screen-time to the fathers as well as mothers who are grieving. This is vital: it reminds the world that stillbirth is not an experience to be suffered quietly by the person who carried the baby. Stillbirth is an experience shared, and indeed it should be shared.
Howard knew she had to make Still Loved after making a short film drama about the subject in 2013: this was Peekaboo, starring BAFTA-award-winning actor Lesley Sharp. “I’d spoken to so many people around their experiences while making [Peekaboo], I knew I’d barely scratched the surface of the subject,” she explains. “The stigma and silence I found around losing babies was incredible – so many people felt like they couldn’t talk about what they’d gone through, because it made other people uncomfortable. This just meant their grief got internalised. That didn’t help.”
They told me about their trip to hospital together, with Laura in labour, not knowing that a heartbeat wouldn’t be found
Howard’s film shows us how many different people have had these experiences too. There’s the couple who lost their twins before 24 weeks, the single mother whose partner’s mother blamed the stillbirth on evil spirits, and the fathers who felt pressure to be strong and silent while feeling anything but. We meet the amazing Michelle and Nicky, who have set up the brilliant Campaign for Safer Births, after negligence in medical care ended the lives of their babies. We hear of couples whose friends no longer ring them, or are told unhelpful things like “you can always have another”. I remember feeling the hopelessness of saying anything as a friend of Tim and Laura; with hindsight, I know that simply offering your love as a friend is so much better than saying nothing.
When I was asked to mark Baby Loss Awareness Week by writing this piece, I emailed Tim and Laura to ask them what they would want me to say. I realise now how nervous I was about getting things wrong. Their responses made me so amazed and proud of both of them – and I’ve realised here is where the message of this film lives.
They both told me the story of Charlotte in detail, and about how they wanted to share it, to remember her short time in the world. They told me about their trip to hospital together, with Laura in labour, not knowing that a heartbeat wouldn’t be found. They told me how lucky they were with their medical team, who arranged Charlotte’s funeral, and came to see them in hospital when Emily was born; the NHS rising to the occasion as it can so often, brilliantly, do.
They also told me of the cruel things that stuck in their minds, hoping others won’t have to face them again. For Tim, there was the “helpful” leaflet that told him to “think of the grandparents that feel helpless as they see the devastation their children are going through”; this instruction only devastated him further. For Laura, it was hearing people say things like “it’s not as like you knew them”. She knew her. “The best thing to do is talk to people who know how you’re feeling,” Laura concluded.
Baby Loss Awareness Week and Still Loved will keep this message soaring this month, giving voices to those people who need them most – and reminding those of us who haven’t suffered, like our friends have, to use our voices too. “We are proud of who we are because of Charlotte,” Tim he told me, “and that she was in our life.” She was in their lives, and she is, and will always be.
Still Loved is now in cinemas and will be available on digital from 1 November (@StillLovedDoc). If you or anyone you know wishes to know more or seek support about stillbirths, please contact Tommy’s or Sands.
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.
Talya Stone from the blog Motherhood the Real Deal has written this article about our documentary, Still Loved, interviewing 4 of our mum’s, Mel Scott, Louisa Evans, Michelle Hemmington and Julie Cooke about dealing with the loss of their babies and what it was like for them taking part in our film. They also asked us about making the film and how it all came about.
This week our Sales Agent and Distributor CatnDocs will be promoting Still Loved at IDFA (International Documentary Festival of Amsterdam) at Docs For Sale. We’ve heard whisperings already of news of a broadcaster overseas wanting to buy the film, more news on confirmation. It will be great to see how CatnDocs have got on after the festival is over. Find out more here
In other news we’ve just completed an applicaiton to The Wellcome Trust for our outreach campaign on Still Loved, so fingers crossed for that! It will help us to get Still Loved out to audiences far and wide.
We’ve also had a new poster designed which we’ll be able to share with you very soon.
Debbie has also been mentoring with the BFI Film Academy Sheffield this weekend, the students did incredibly well, especially working outside in sub zero temperatures. Looking forward to getting the film finished next week.