The Process

Malini GoelShould Tomorrow Be is a project born of love and circumstance. When my father suffered a simple fall in 2006 and broke his neck, paralyzing him from the neck down, it was as if a bomb blew up. Shrapnel permeated every inch of emotional fabric of our lives. The confusion, shock and devastation was further compounded when my father said he did not want to live anymore because he did not want to be a burden on his family.

Although we fought the decision and tried to reason with him and the hospital, he had the legal and ethical right to withhold life-sustaining treatment (in this case, to disconnect his ventilator), and he was fully medically and legally competent to do so.

Once I understood that he had made this decision and we had not managed to convince him otherwise, I pulled out my video camera — a little Canon 200x digital zoom handheld that he had bought for me on my birthday two years earlier in 2004 — and I began filming. I never intended for the footage to turn into a film. It was an unconscious and selfish act … to allow me to hold onto my dad. After I had completed filming, I put the mini digital video cassettes (DVs) in a closet and did not look at them for years.

Fast-forward six years. Finally, when I could look at the footage objectively, I downloaded it onto a hard drive. When I watched the hours and hours of footage, I was surprised. There were conversations that were raw, brave, defiant, humorous, hopeful, spiritual and brilliant.

At the center of it all was an intimate view into one man’s moral, ethical and legal dilemma as he struggled with the decision whether he should live as a vent-dependent quadriplegic or end his life.

From that moment, I realized I had to tell this story. I had to show it visually because there was no other way to convey those moments and miracles that happened in that Intensive Care Unit at the University of Chicago Medical Center over the course of two weeks in September 2006. And what I discovered through looking at the footage was that it was not a time of weakness and despair, but rather a time of immeasurable strength.

Although my life had been full of self-expression through photography, poetry and writing up until that point, I had not yet dabbled in the world of film making. So I signed up for a “guerrilla film making” class in New York City. During the weeks that followed, I wrote the script and narration that would connect the words and visuals and tie together the emotional fabric of the story. I set up the camera and filmed myself narrating. I also interviewed my mother — an integral part of the story.

Equipped with a recently purchased MacBook Air and an Apple One-to-One membership, which afforded me access to Apple’s creative teams and classes at Apple stores, I was able to learn iMovie and Final Cut Pro and obtained the tools needed to bring the story to life. Prior to that point, I had not used any kind of editing software. Once the editing started, I stayed up late into the night for days on end and also worked for hours over several months at Apple stores in both New York and Chicago. It was a labor of love.

A family member did the post-production sound with Pro Tools. Friends in the community composed music for the film. I also found and incorporated songs from a small Hindi album that my mother sang some 25 years earlier. Like the film’s original DVs, her “cassette tape” had gathered dust in a closet for years. The irony is that the words in the album’s songs were so relevant, it was as if she had sang the soundtrack to her life a quarter of a century before the events actually happened.

Should Tomorrow Be is primarily a love story of family, hope, strength and courage that seeks to remind us that we should cherish every moment of everyday.

— Malini Goel