Christine Turner took your questions live along with an online screening on Thursday, June 27, 2013, but you can catch the recap of the chat below. Learn more about the making of Homegoings and African-American funeral traditions in Harlem.
POV: Welcome to POV’s social screening with Christine Turner, Director of Homegoings.
POV: We will be starting our screening of Homegoings at 7 PM ET. Christine Turner will be joining us at that time to answer your questions and provide live commentary as the film replays.
Christine Turner: Hi, everyone. Thanks for tuning in!
POV: Hello, Christine. How have audiences reacted to the film? What has the reception been like?
Christine Turner: I’ve been amazed by the reactions we’re hearing so far.
Christine Turner: I think that there is an expectation because of the subject matter that the film is going to morbid or depressing and so people tend to have certain reservations about watching the film…
Christine Turner: But by and large people are finding it to be a really moving, even uplifting experience. In fact, someone just recently told me that watching the film finally provided them with a sense of closure after having lost a loved one over a decade ago. That really blew me away.
LadyPeaATL: The subject matter is uncomfortable for many people, but I look forward to your film.
POV: What has the reception been like for the audience Harlem, NYC?
Christine Turner: Incredible! Last Friday we had the honor of screening the film at the landmark Apollo Theater and it was a packed house. People were laughing, crying and cheering all at the same time. Right now it’s playing for a week at Maysles Cinema, located just a few blocks down from Owens Funeral Home, so if you’re in New York I would encourage you to experience the film communally if you can.
Sean Holmquest: It’s great that everyone has gotten behind the film, but that is also a testament to the very personal and human touch you put on the film, Christine.
Christine Turner: Thanks, Sean. I tried to approach this story in a way that we could all personally relate to.
Sean Holmquest: These stories from loved ones are a great way to quickly break that wall of having subject material that people are hesitant about engaging with.
POV: Christine, where are Isaiah and his family today? Do they still operate their funeral home and how is the business doing?
Christine Turner: Quite a bit has changed since the time of filming.
Christine Turner: Isaiah Owens’ son Chris is now living in Florida, which he prefers over New York, and his daughter Shaniqua currently lives in South Carolina where she is pursuing a nursing career. Isaiah and his wife Lillie are still fixtures at the funeral home in Harlem and remain busy as ever.
Christine Turner: The same goes for Isaiah’s mother, Willie Mae, who is now 96 years-old, and is still working at the parlor in Branchville!
Christine Turner: She is an incredible lady. Very funny, too.
POV: Do you have any new feelings about death after spending so much time with Isaiah Owens?
Christine Turner: In some ways I’m less afraid of death, but more than anything I’ve just been reminded to treasure the time that I have with the people I care most about.
Sean Holmquest: How did you find Isaiah?
Christine Turner: I came across an article in the New York Times several years ago about Mr. Owens. It was about how he had developed a reputation in Harlem for “beautifying” the dead and I found myself intrigued.
Christine Turner: I was reminded of the first open casket funeral I attended as a kid, which was of my grandmother, Mildred Turner.
Christine Turner: And one day I just decided to call him up and meet him.
POV: How long did it take to make the film?
Christine Turner: From start to finish it was about 4 years. It was a long process.
LadyPeaATL: Was it difficult to get families to open up about their personal experience?
Christine Turner: Yes, for some people it was difficult. But I just gave them as much time as they needed and they all came around.
Christine Turner: Several people have told me they found the interview to be cathartic interestingly enough.
lucy57: Christine, did Isaiah talk to you at all about how the culture around death/dying is changing with the appearance of social media? Is he on Twitter or Facebook? Is that something he has to deal with at all?
Christine Turner: That’s an interesting question. He is not on Facebook or Twitter and many of the people he serves aren’t as active on social media. His interactions with people are always face to face or on the phone.
Shannon Carroll: Christine, what was the biggest challenge making the film?
Christine Turner: There were lots of filmmaking and logistical challenges because of the unpredictable nature of his work…
Christine Turner: But perhaps the biggest challenge was just seeing families going through such difficult times. That took an emotional toll.
Christine Turner: It also took me a while to find the courage to film the embalming process, but I realized I couldn’t tell a story about death and ignore that aspect of his work.
POV: Christine, did any other films inspire you while you were filming or editing Homegoings?
Christine Turner: There’s a Japanese fiction film called “Departures” that I found very moving. It’s about an undertaker in Japan who was equally dedicated to his work.
Shannon Carroll: Are there any other films or filmmakers that have inspired you?
Christine Turner: I’m inspired by the many incredible women working in documentary right now…Laura Poitras, Rebecca Cammisa, Pamela Yates. The list goes on and on.
POV: Christine, if you had one piece of advice for a first-time filmmaker, what would it be?
Christine Turner: Don’t give up! And trust your gut! Okay, that’s technically two pieces.
POV: What are you working on next? What new projects do you have going on?
Christine Turner: Right now I’m actually finishing up a series of short videos about the policing tactic known as “stop-and-frisk” and continuing to research ideas for my next independent project. I’m also traveling with “Homegoings” and sharing it with people in different communities.
lucy57: What communities have you gone to? Have you traveled outside the US with the film at all?
Christine Turner: I recently traveled to North Carolina to present the film and Mr. Owens just got back from his home state, where it was shown at the South Carolina Archives and History Center. It hasn’t shown outside of the US yet, but I really hope to screen the film abroad.
POV: We are extremely grateful to have you, Christine. Thank you for joining us today. Our live screening will be ending soon. Is there anything else you want to say to our viewers?
Christine Turner: Thank you viewers! For taking the time to watch this film and for sharing it with your families.
POV: Thank you so much, Christine. We’re excited that Homegoings will be available for full streaming online until July 24, 2013 at http://www.pbs.org/POV/homegoings/full.php
LadyPeaATL: Great job, Christine. Thank you for sharing your talent and film with us. I am honored to watch it. I’m changed.
Christine Turner: Thanks to all of you. Great questions, insights and observations.
POV: You can hear more from Christine by watching this video interview on the PBS website: http://www.pbs.org/pov/homegoings/video/christine-turner/
POV: At POV we’re hosting open discussions about the American ways of death and the funeral industry. Visit the Homegoings companion site to submit your story or share your funeral practices as part of this interactive feature. http://www.pbs.org/pov/homegoings/discussions-about-death/