Loading Docs is a launching pad for New Zealand short documentaries which has just released 10 new films. We’ll be featuring each of the films and profiling the directors behind them.
DIRECTOR PROFILE: WENDELL COOKE AND JEREMY MACEY
Filmmakers Wendell Cooke and Jeremy Macey get to know Gina, a woman with a rare genetic disorder, as they explore the issue of voluntary euthanasia for their Loading Docs film.
Gina, who has an unnamed connective tissue disorder, is in her mid-40s. Her condition affects her eyes, ears, and larynx, making it hard for her to see, hear, or talk.
“You can’t talk a lot to Gina because it damages her tissues, you can only whisper a little bit, so most [communication] is through letter charting,” says Jeremy Macey.
The letter charting process makes it possible for Gina to form together words and sentences.
“If you think of the alphabet being arranged into four or five rows, then a finger touch will say which row, and she’ll nod then you’ll say, ok, second row, then you’ll touch her again and she’ll [communicate] 3rd letter second row, and you’ll write that down, then you’ll start again; touch, touch, nod,” says Wendell Cooke.
“When you stroke you need to check you’ve got the right thing. Gina can only outwardly communicate by moving her head, like nodding,” he says.
Because Gina’s sister cannot talk, they rely on another friend to read out the words to help double check with Gina that they’ve understood what she’s saying accurately. Gina communicates to her sister and their friend confirms the communication is correct.
Through this letter by letter, touch by touch chain of communication, the directors got to know Gina, and learn about her quality of life and her feelings about it.
“We didn’t want to make it all about Gina’s condition, because you could spend quite a bit of time covering what it is, how she communicates... that information is there, but that's a lot of info,” says Macey.
By focusing on the subject of voluntary euthanasia, the directors are both aware of the controversy their film could cause, and they hope to get people thinking.
“We feel strongly about the issue, we’d rather that it caused some stir and bring attention and get people talking, rather than glide by politely,” says Cooke.
“We could be open to the accusation that we’ve picked a really extreme case, that maybe skews the argument of euthanasia in our favour.
“If you're prepared to put forward those arguments - slippery slope, sanctity of life, or older people being coerced by family members, so they can get their hands on property - these are all legitimate concerns. But if you're prepared to talk about these things, then you’ve got to reconcile yourself with the fact you’re consigning someone in Gina’s situation, or worse, not having the choice.
“So I think you have to be comfortable with that, don’t be intellectually dishonest, there are risks with anything in life - alcohol, guns, cars - but we mitigate those risks as best we can with regulations and law.”
Most importantly for the filmmakers have been to create a film that stimulates interest, and humanises the issue.
“I feel really proud… this is something that came together, and hopefully will move people when they watch it,” says Cooke.
Story by Elizabeth Beattie.