Summer Movie List

As summer winds down, in addition to a natural burial reading list (see “Summer Reading List”), I want to offer you a summer movie list as well. Though these titles will almost certainly be a little more difficult to come by than the books I reviewed previously, they are well worth the effort to track down.

Hands down the most moving documentary I have yet to see about “green burial” is A Will for the Woods (watch the trailer at https://vimeo.com/62452617).  If you’re ready to learn about natural burial while also resonating with a poignant, deeply human story of heartbreak, courage and commitment, this full-length film will touch your heart — and perhaps even change the way you think about burial. Directed by Amy Browne, Jeremy Kaplan, Brian Wilson and Tony Hale, A Will for the Woods recounts the dream, and the death, of Clark Wang as he bravely creates a living legacy.

The result is Pine Forest Memorial Gardens outside Raleigh, N.C., which remains to this day North Carolina’s only conservation natural burial site. In saving a lovely wooded area from the bulldozer, and creating a natural burial ground for himself and others, Clark Wang is an inspiration to us all. Equally inspirational are the other persons who appear in the documentary — Wang’s wife Jane, their friends, and the woman who ultimately helps Clark make his dream a reality, Dyanne Matzkevich, now the manager of Pine Forest. I had the privilege of meeting Dyanne, and visiting Pine Forest and Clark’s grave, this spring. It was an experience I will never forget.

Learn more about this tender, touching movie at www.awillforthewoods.com.

In the half-hour documentary category, definitely check out Dying Green, a film about Dying GreenBilly Campbell, the founder of the green burial movement in North America. (Full disclosure: I have also had the privilege of meeting Campbell and his wife Kimberley, who together operate the oldest — and most beautiful, IMHO — natural burial sanctuary in the U.S., Ramsey Creek Preserve in South Carolina.)

Dying Green recounts how Dr. Billy Campbell, a small-town physician (he calls himself “the town doctor”) was converted to a passionate belief in green burial — and how that passion compelled him to he make a connection between natural burial and environmental conservation that continues to spawn other green burial sanctuaries around the country. You can watch the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPQ1sPcQQHo

If you’re noticing a theme here, it’s “conversion.” Like the Campbells, like Dyanne Matzkevich, most of us must have some kind of “conversion experience” before we can move from the passive acceptance of conventional burial and funeral customs, circa current and 20th century American custom, to an embrace of a much more natural, instinctive, deeply human way of handling our dead. Both A Will for the Woods and Dying Green show how professionals in related industries (one a doctor, one already a funeral director) came to rethink how what they do impacts both people and the environment. Both movies are highly recommended viewing.

I would be remiss if I did not include the critically acclaimed, classic HBO series Six Feet Under in any summer-viewing list. Having missed out on it myself when it originally aired (2001-2005), I’ve been binge-watching the series this year. I’m halfway through, and simply loving it.

As much family drama as it is commentary on life, mortality, and the funeral industry, Six Feet Under deserved each and every one of its multitudinous award nominations. If you’re looking for an “unsettling yet powerfully human exploration of life and death” (per the Peabody Awards in 2002), look no further than Six Feet Under. Available on-demand online and at your local library. Classic episodes so far (remember, I’m only halfway through) include the pilot, “The Room,” “Out, Out Brief Candle,” “Back to the Garden” and “Perfect Circles.”

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