If you’re feeling down this movie won’t bring you up because it is about death, certain death. This is also a very personal movie, one that follows one terminally ill man from his battle with lymphoma to his death and burial and along the way we learn about the green burial movement in the documentary “A Will for the Woods.”

Yet we all will face death and taxes and it’s never too early to think about death.

Clark Wang is a musician, psychiatrist and folk dancer.  We see him playing music with friends. Wang lives in North Carolina. His partner Jane Ezzard is beside him as he fights cancer through radiation treatments and yet the possibility that the battle against will be lost is not far from their thoughts between doctor’s visits and dealing with the side effects.

Director Amy Browne had first learned about the concept of green burial in 2007 from her sister, Sophie, who was working with Professor Roger Short of the University of Melbourne in Australia. They were looking for and developing future sites in that country for green burials. Sophie had begun her research in 2007, but it was in 2009 that Sophie and Amy were stuck in traffic near the Calvary Cemetery in Queens, that Amy decided to make a documentary. According to the press notes, the cemetery is wall-to-wall tombstones, mausoleums and memorials. The grass has dried up. There are few trees. It seems like a waste of land and resources.

Collaborating with co-directors Amy, Jeremy Kaplan, Tony Hale and Brian Wilson, Amy Browne took five years to film “A Will for the Woods.” The team looks at the key figures: Joe Sehee of the Green Burial Council, Kimberley and Dr. Billy Campbell, founders of the nation’s first conservation burial ground and Dyanne Matzkevich who is saving part of a forest in her conventional cemetery in order to make a green burial ground.

All that is facts and talk, contrasted to statistical information about the funeral industry–of expensive caskets and monuments and embalming for those who don’t find cremation the way to go. Cremation also doesn’t fit the green profile because it also causes pollution. If you need more background consider reading Evelyn Waugh’s satire “The Loved One: An Anglo-American Tragedy” or Jessica Mitford’s funny expose “The American Way of Death Revisited” (2000 update to the original).

Mitford (1917-1996) was born in England and became an investigative journalist in the 1960s. “The American Way of Death” was originally published in 1963 and looked at the business practices of the funeral industries and how they exploited grief. That led to a congressional hearing.

Waugh (1903-1966) got to the topic sooner with his 1948 “The Loved One” which became a 1965 Tony Richardson movie. Waugh was in Hollywood on the pretense of negotiating with MGM to adapt “Brideshead Revisited.” Instead, he did some digging into the Forest Lawn culture–its founder, facility and the peculiar practices of Americans when they die.

In essence, “A Will for the Woods” is also a reaction to American culture of death and the pomp and circumstance we’ve come to feel is normal. If it wasn’t normal from a universal perspective in the 1940s or the 1960s, one wonders if the culture has gotten better or more ridiculous.

With that perspective, what can we do to fight the mantra of American consumerism. What’s a green activist or even green friendly person to do for a funeral?

That was a question that bothered Clark Wang. Amy Browne and Kaplan heard about him and Wang is such a simple, unassuming man. He’s not an attention hog. He’s not preening. He’s not gloomy. He’s sad but also seems to find a certain comfort in the filming of this documentary. Of course, no one could be quite sure what would happen, but Wang does lose his battle with cancer. He has some regrets, but he does eventually meet his death with thoughtful preparation.

In our home, we often lament the lack of East Asian ethnic heroes and lead characters. Wang just happens to be East Asian American and he also happens to be dying. He’s an average guy trying to settle his affairs and he invites us all to join in his final journey. The co-directors handle this with great sensitivity. You’ll mourn Wang’s passing but also leave thinking about just how green do you want to be?

This documentary is showing at various venues and you can request to host a screening by going to the official website. 

 

  • Village East Cinema – New York City, NY
  • Creative Alliance – Baltimore, MD
  • The Plaza Theater – Atlanta, GA
  • Temple of Peace – Maui, HI
    • August 21st, 7pm in Haiku – Temple of Peace, 575 Haiku Rd.
    • August 25th, 7pm in Kihei – Awakening in Paradise, 1715 South Kihei Rd.
  • Upstate Theater – Rhinebeck/Woodstock, NY
  • Hyatt Place Hotel – Medford, MA
    • Saturday, August 23rd at 7pm
    • 116 Riverside Avenue
    • This event is free and open to the public
    • Filmmaker present for Q&A
  • Pinckney Community Library – Pinckney, MI
    • Thursday, September 4th at 6:30pm
    • 125 Putnam Street
    • Venue info here. This event is free and open to the public
  • Railroad Square Cinema – Waterville, ME
  • The Clinton Street Theater – Portland, OR
  • Knoxville Film Festival – Knoxville, TN
  • The New Parkway – Oakland, CA
  • Full Frame Third Friday (free screening) – Durham, NC
    • Friday evening, September 19th
    • 318 Blackwell Street
    • Cinema info. Free event, reserve here 9am 9/19 due to limited seating
  • Alamo Drafthouse – Winchester, VA
  • Greenfield Garden Cinemas – Greenfield, MA
  • Tallahassee Film Society – Tallahassee, FL
  • Matthaei Botanical Gardens – Ann Arbor, MI
  • Museum of Fine Arts – Boston, MA
    • Saturday, October 11th, 2:30pm
    • 465 Huntington Ave (Remis Auditorium)
    • Venue info here (ticket info TBA)
    • Q&A with filmmakers following screening 
  • Kansas International Film Festival – Kansas City, KS
  • Films in Forest Row – United Kingdom
    • Friday, October 24th
    • East Sussex, UK
    • More info TBA
  • International Film Series at CU – Boulder, CO
  • Full Frame Theater (3 day run) – Durham, NC
  • The Lensic – Santa Fe, NM
  • Dallas, TX – Venue TBA
    • Thursday, November 6th (Time TBA)
    • More information on this screening available soon – stay tuned!
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