Zenith Virago is the go-to marriage celebrant of Byron Shire, Australia, having conducted over 1500 marriage ceremonies. She's also the region's deathwalker, offering end-of-life decision planning and DIY funeral alternatives through her Natural Death Care Centre. Both sides of her work share the same mission: to help people reclaim their most personal, vulnerable, and significant life moments from commercial forces, government bureaucracy, and cultural taboos. Zenith's work and the support of Byron Shire's citizens and elected officials compel each of us to reclaim an active role in how we love and how we die: those two greatest sources of hope and fear in the human experience. After a moving World Premiere as the Closing Night Gala Film at the Byron Bay International Film Festival, we are submitting the film to the film festival circuit and have developed a distribution and outreach strategy for the project. Funds are needed to permit festival submissions, festival travel, publicity and distribution costs, outreach campaign implementation, and to hopefully repay deferred salaries of key collaborators. It is our hope the film will fill a powerful void in popular representation and cultural conversation, helping us to reclaim death as a natural, instructive, and socially supported component of an open society.
How does the project meet the aims of a philanthropic foundation?
The professionalization of the funeral director, the normalizing of embalming, and the transformation of personal acts of body disposal into an impersonal industry has occurred over the span of less than a century. The resultant Western approach to death has left us largely blind to our treatment of the elderly and the extent to which a say in our most personal, vulnerable, and significant life moments has been forfeited. With the coming wave of aging baby boomers, it is vital for us to offer education and tools for individuals and communities to become empowered around dying and death. Innovative natural death work is already becoming established in a number of regional contexts, and yet these individuals, organizations, and programs are still tremendously isolated and disarticulated. Zen & the Art of Dying uses the communal examples of Zenith Virago and Byron Shire to model key initiatives of natural death care.
What outcomes do you hope to achieve by making this film and how will you measure its impact?
Aims & Objectives
Zen & the Art of Dying’s modeling of natural death work via accessible characters and narrative will be its greatest impact. The principles and outcomes we seek to share include:
•The human right to palliative care should extend to death care and bereavement.
•Access to municipal end-of-life counseling and non-profit funerary services should be a community standard.
•Intercultural and interdenominational exchange of death traditions produces stronger communities.
•DIY coffin making and home funerals offer personalization and economic freedom from the funerary industry.
•A society able to address dying and death returns the wisdom of the infirm and elderly to the cultural conversation.
•Training and counseling medical and palliative care professionals to experience and process death is vital.
•Alternative eco-burial and bio-cremation techniques are chemical and byproduct-free and use no fossil fuels.
•Collective memorial and celebration of the dead makes bereavement a natural and supported aspect of community life.
What is your education and outreach strategy?
Zen & the Art of Dying’s recent premiere at the 2015 Byron Bay International Film Festival offered a national promotional platform for the film and Web initiative. International distribution and broadcast will draw global audiences to the Web initiative’s resources and community. Virago’s Natural Death Centre has received Australian government funds and private grants to further develop public workshops and information kits that will enhance the Web initiative’s resources and facilitate use by communities and secondary/tertiary academic contexts. There is clear academic relevance to the fields of philosophy, law, politics, the biological and medical sciences, social work, religious studies, cultural anthropology, thanatology, urban and environmental planning, and media studies. Fox will present the film at an array of global conferences and proceedings. Virago’s socially engaged community events, Fox’s alternative media programming experience, and Biolos’ theater production background, make our team particularly suited to craft a unique outreach tour. We hope to partner with organizations in select international communities to coordinate screenings of the film, local Day of the Dead celebrations led by Virago, and dialogue/workshop events.