Producer's Interview

Michael Kirk

Image of father and son

Former Nieman Fellow in Journalism at Harvard University, Michael Kirk was the founding senior producer of the highly acclaimed series FRONTLINE from its inception in 1983 until he formed the Boston-based Kirk Documentary Group in 1987. Kirk, winner of every major award in broadcast journalism (including The Peabody Award, the DuPont-Columbia Award, eight EMMYs, and five Writers Guild of America Awards), has a very personal interest in the topic. He was determined to make a film that will help viewers experience the bittersweet moments and hard choices facing parents and their grown children.

Q: Why did you decide to take on the film Caring for Your Parents?

MICHAEL KIRK: As a baby boomer I fit the demographic that is facing the issues inherent in caring for our parents. Many of my friends spend a great deal of time talking about what they are confronting as their parents reach the last chapter of life. I've heard countless stories of the challenges of deciding whether to keep a parent at home or help them move into assisted living situations. I've watched caretakers take on so many burdens that their own health is jeopardized, and I've also seen wonderful transformations where children and parents talk, really talk, for the first time in their lives. As a filmmaker and a human being these kind of very human issues totally captured my interest.

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Q: What is the most important issue about caring for your parents?

MICHAEL KIRK: From what I saw, the families that most successfully dealt with many of the issues were those who were capable of having a serious and practical conversation with each other. So many issues‒health care proxies; living wills; funeral arrangements; financial matters; assisted living choices really need to be discussed, and when they are talked about before there is a crisis, the entire process goes much easier.

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Q: What did you learn/observe in the interactions with the families in the film?

MICHAEL KIRK: Love in action. I saw that the caregivers who could transcend their own needs (a lot of the time) were the beneficiaries of a very positive experience‒and so were their parents. I also saw the effects of stress and emotional strain on the health of the caregivers. It is too big a job for one person. Other family members really need to help.

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Q: Are you caring for your own parents? Tell us about that.

MICHAEL KIRK: My father is in his 80s. He lives far away from me (I'm the oldest). My siblings live closer but none of us have taken the steps to have that conversation I now know we need to have. My strongest personal takeaway from making this film is to pay serious attention to what is inevitably going to be an emotional time. In order to sort out what will be necessary to do for my father (and who will do what) my siblings and I must have this conversation with my dad.

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Q: What is your biggest piece of advice for those caring for their parents?

MICHAEL KIRK: Bring patience and your best self to the task. Take care of yourself physically, don't believe a magical transformation is going to take place, and start with the realization that as long as your parents are capable of making decisions they should be allowed to.

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Q: This film is heart-breaking... was it meant to be?

MICHAEL KIRK: It was meant to simply and quietly tell the story of what happens to five caregivers. As often happens with stories like this, the events take over and what ends up happening is both sad, and heart-warming at the same time. I don't think, in the end, the film is actually heart-breaking‒I really believe we captured people loving each other‒giving of themselves with such a generosity of spirit that is at times, overwhelming to witness.

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Q: Is there any way around the heartbreak when caring for your parents?

MICHAEL KIRK: The entire process is filled with challenges, failures, and successes. The people in our film all believe they benefited greatly from the experience, and so, as their witnesses, did we.

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