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Fog in Heathrow - Heat in Austin

Fog at Heathrow…

...is an announcement you don’t want to hear in transit to catch two quite tightly scheduled flights to the SXSW Film Festival. Arriving 24 hours after setting off Mandy and I had a cup of tea and a brief snooze, then up and at ‘em – Bring it On Austin!

We pick up our badges in a hangar-sized hall in the Austin Convention Centre. Hundreds of staff and volunteers are bustling about, and thousands of delegates. A quick coffee outdoors, then straight to our sound check at The Alamo Drafthouse Lamar, the setting for our first showing of Seven Songs. 

Mandy and I are beyond excitement as the cinema begins to fill up; our waiter appears and explains how to order food during the screening…we’re not in Kansas anymore Dorothy.

The audience love it, hearty guffaws and exclamations at appropriate times and genuinely warm applause is followed by a Q&A. 

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New York, New York

“It's up to you, New York, New York" Sinatra

Is POV (PBS) the best television slot going? At least, for documentary filmmakers. Sonja Henrici and I are in NY and it’s a heatwave. Even the turtles came out of hibernation today. Fresh from snowy Scotland I have my big boots and woolly dresses. And I am so excited to see the POV staff again, after five years. They politely ignore my sweaty hands and hot shiny face in their new waterfront offices in Dumbo in Brooklyn, and we discuss Seven Songs for a Long Life and its immanent North American premiere at South by Southwest ("SxSW") in Texas.

 

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We will sing at SxSW! (North American Premiere)

Following its October 2015 premiere in Scotland, Seven Songs for a Long Life has gone on to play at cinemas and hospices across the UK and recently opened at Docpoint Helsinki. This month the film will see its premiere in Austin during the world famous SxSW Festival. We will be in top notch company, as even Barack and Michelle Obama are giving keynotes!

We are going out in force: Director Amy Hardie, Producer Sonja Henrici, our "magical singing nurse" Mandy Malcomson, and Musician and Voice Coach Hilary Brooks will travel to US for the week of the festival - where we will also meet with our New York based Exec Producer Lori Cheatle. 

So far the film has received five and four-star reviews by film critics in the UK and overwhelmingly positive praise from health professionals for the sensitive and thoughtful way in which it presents questions about how we approach death. We can't wait to present the film to North American audiences, opening up the dialogue about palliative care across the pond.

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What does a song hold?

…Reflections from a neophyte musical director.

Why do some songs stop us in our tracks?

As soon as Tosh, then Dorene and then Alicia sang to me, something shifted in our relationship. They had found a key to open the door out of the room that says – cancer diagnosis, patient 154482 – and somehow they were connecting with me, so powerfully, that time seemed to stop.

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Seven Songs at DocPoint Helsinki

Are our five Scottish patients internationally relevant? Yes they are! In Helsinki, in Finland, the audiences were moved to laughter, and tears, and came out of the film talking about their own mortality. It’s partly the songs that transcend national borders, but also the honesty with which Nicola, Julie, Iain, Dorene and Tosh express themselves. And something about the terrifying randomness of fate, which each person experiences as day by day uncertainty, and the grace with which they all accept life in its shadow.

In fact, the film fitted well into a programme that was looking at how families cope towards the end of life. Chantal Akerman’s No Home Movie was a portrait of the uneasy dynamic between her sister, herself and her increasingly frail mother. The comedy and courage of carrying on, often after a partner has died, was elegantly expressed in Stephan Bergmann’s The Last Gigolos. And the inadequate and earnest attempts to make it right with live in care brought to a rich country from a poor country was documented in Christiane Buchner’s Family Business.

Docpoint’s movies interwove themes so that each film led to another – wonderful curation from Ulla Simonen!

(Image of Amy in Helsinki below.)

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Meet Jim Brown

A former cruise-ship jeweler, Jim also played piano on the Cunard line, before discovering his calling to help keep Strathcarron Hospice afloat financially. It’s a big ask – with running costs over 6 million, and NHS grants of £2.4, he and the fundraising team have to raise 3.9 million pounds every year in this predominantly working class area. They do it because they love to look after their community of patients with great food, beautiful surroundings, and a staff to patient ratio that means everyone has time to talk, to listen, and to create the memories that make Strathcarron special.

Here's a clip with Jim from Seven Songs from a Long Life:

 

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