"How to Die in Oregon" awarded top documentary at Sundance

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

This weekend, the Sundance Film Festival - one of the premier showcases for independent film - awarded its top prize for documentary to a film called "How to Die in Oregon."

The film, produced by local filmmaker Peter Richardson, reviews Oregon's landmark 1994 law that allows terminally-ill patients to seek a physician's assistance in ending their own life. Of particular note, the film follows the life and death of several Oregonians who agreed to share their experiences seeking death with dignity.

The award is all the more striking because many Sundance film-goers avoided the film, as noted by the New York Times:

Sheila Nevins, president of HBO Documentary Films, said she thought people were also squeamish. Even half her staff — and this is not a crew unaccustomed to difficult topics — refused to watch the whole film, she said. Meanwhile, the movie’s experienced publicity team said it had never witnessed such universal can’t-cope-with-that rejection from members of the media at Sundance, who left some empty seats at the screening.

“Nobody wants to stare death in the face, and that’s the reason nobody wants to see this film,” Ms. Nevins said over breakfast at the nearby Canyons Ski Resort. “Don’t get me wrong — it’s very harsh, a very hard watch. But ultimately it’s an important film about courage, about dignity, about compassion.”

For those who manage to make it through “How to Die in Oregon,” the film’s message is ultimately uplifting, Stan Curtis said. “My wife understood the meaning of her own life,” he said. “It seems like a story about dying, but actually it is very much a story about living.”

Incidentally, as the O's Shawn Levy noted last month, four of the sixteen documentaries at Sundance were produced in Oregon.

And, on a purely personal note: The grand jury prize for drama went to "Like Crazy" - a romantic drama about a couple that's torn apart because one overstays a student visa and is barred from the U.S. And, the film's lead costume designer was my sister, Mairi Chisholm. So proud of her.

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    My dad died 1/21/11 of lung cancer, and didn't end up needing this option. But I am very glad it was there for him. If he had lived in my state, California, it would not have been.

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    Did the film get picked up for distribution? I definitely want to see it.

    And congrats to your sister, that's quite an honor.

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      My understanding is that HTDIO will get broadcast on HBO, which funded its production. After that, like most HBO docs, it'll likely go to DVD.

      Of course, given the Sundance outcome, it's possible that HBO might do a theatrical release first.

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    It is part of the NWFC's Portland International Film Festival showing this month in Portland.



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