Background Health promoting palliative care is a relatively new concept in palliative care that aims to increase public awareness and open discussion in relation to death and dying. A year long collaboration between a documentary film artist and patients and staff in a Scottish hospice addressed these aims. They produced 20 short films and a character led documentary feature film showing different strategies that led to increased vitality at the end of life.
Method The film-maker worked with over 40 patients, family members and staff in the hospice to identify and expand on participants’ experiences and develop them as narrative for the wider community.
Following the patients’ lead, further research into music and performance arts required collaboration with a music director and choreographer in the day-care ward. An extended period of filming and editing followed, where the material was scrutinised and distilled into portraits and songs.
Results The resulting documentary film follows patients in the hospice and in their homes, reflecting their strength and individuality, their hopes and dreams as well as their struggle with disease as they use music and creativity to mirror their personal identity and the day- to -day life in the hospice. Responses to the film qualify it as an art based research as watching it enables learning, enhances and challenge audiences’ understanding and perception of death and dying.
Key themes that patients raised were their need to be seen as individuals rather than patients and their desire to challenge preconceptions that dying patients are weak, vulnerable and passive.
Conclusion: Making a film within a hospice has enabled patients to have a voice as individuals and challenge current perceptions of the dying patient.
Wide distribution of the film through television and cinema will encourage public debate across all medias, challenging assumptions about death, dying and the day-to-day life in a hospice.
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