Though death is a topic many keep quiet about, a documentary geared toward helping parents discuss the subject with children is making noise in the film industry.
The Detroit-based film “From Generation to Generation: Jewish Families Talk About Death,” was recently awarded the Golden Eagle Award from CINE, the documentary and informational film organization, and named a silver award winner in the 42nd annual International Film and Video Awards competition.
Produced and directed by Academy Award-winning producer Sue Marx, the documentary is intended to compensate for a dearth of dialogue about death between parents and children, who are, too often, left to their own devices to conjure up explanations about death, according to the film’s creators.
“What we’re really saying to the parents is `Get over it,'” Marx said.
“Death is a subject that’s sad, and most people don’t want to deal with it,” said David Techner, the film’s executive producer. “People say, `I don’t know how to tell my kid,'” about death, he said, but “kids know more than parents think they know.”
The documentary centers around personal interviews with children, mostly 7- to 11-year-olds, still pondering the loss of loved ones. Many admit they are more perplexed by adult silence on the matter than by death itself.
“It’s still scary to know,” said one youngster in the film, “but it’s scarier if you don’t know.”
Techner, grief therapist Rozanne Friedman and Rabbi Irwin Groner of Shaarey Zedek in suburban Detroit appear in short clips throughout the film commenting on the best way adults can broach the subject of death.
Jewish rituals such as the job of the shomer, the person who stands guard over the body from death until burial, and the chevra kadisha, who prepare the body for burial, are described as well. A mock funeral ties everything together at the film’s end.
“The worst part about death for a child is that they don’t feel safe or secure,” says Friedman in the film. “Structure,” she adds, “helps them do that, rituals help them do that.”
Techner, funeral director for Detroit’s Ira Kaufman Chapel, has made television appearances as an expert in explaining death to children.
“It’s geared for children,” Techner said of the film, “but we really want parents to pay attention.”
“The film has the potential to fill a variety of voids,” according to Harlene Appleman, director of the Federations Alliance for Jewish Education in Detroit and one the creators of the film. Edited to 35 minutes, the film can be shown in a classroom without losing the attention of its young viewers.
Marx said a nondenominational film with the same theme is in production so the message can reach a broader audience, and a study guide will accompany all films ordered by schools.
Techner’s mission to educate children dates back to his grandfather’s death in 1960. Nine years old at the time, Techner knew his grandfather was sick and remembers coming home from school one day and seeing his house surrounded by cars. As it turned out, the family had just returned from cemetery services.
“They buried him without even telling me he had died.”
“I hope it really gets used by families in crisis and before crisis,” said Marx of the film.
“Everyone wants closure,” Techner added, “everyone wants the chance to say goodbye.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.