I met Zenith at the Byron Bay International Film Festival’s world premiere of my last feature documentary The Skin I’m In (2012). She was an audience member who approached me after the screening, and our shared sensibilities and interests quickly and deeply connected us. I had been thinking and writing critically about digital media production as a means of illness or injury-related pain management, bereavement, and empowerment in end-of-life decision making, so the chance to document her work as a deathwalker felt like a natural, exciting, and passionate next step in my filmmaking.
I often call my production works “embodied” media for their address of gender, sexuality, addiction, body dysmorphia, fantasy, illness, and other frequent sites of cultural shame and bodily taboo. My use of character-driven storytelling and a range of unexpected aesthetic modes both embrace and challenge documentary form and function, yet permit audiences to deeply identify with challenging perspectives and subject matters traditionally excised from mainstream media.
The production crew for Zen & the Art of Dying consisted only of myself as cinematographer/director and my partner Lee Biolos as sound recordist/producer. With this small footprint, we embedded with Zenith for 5 weeks during which she and the community of Byron Bay offered us access to some of their most intimate and vulnerable moments. The experience was both humbling and inspiring, and it is my hope that the natural death care movement they exemplify will similarly inspire other individuals and communities to join in ‘doing death differently.’