- What prompted you to make Should Tomorrow Be?
I have wanted to tell this story for a very long time. It is my way of turning pain into art. I learned the tools to make this film because I so deeply wanted to tell this story. I felt compelled by this unfortunate incident that I had to tell it. We all have a tendency to get wound up in our daily lives. We sweat the small stuff.
Should Tomorrow Be is an immediate reminder to go out and smell the flowers and tell people you love them, firmly and often.
- How exactly did the main character in the film (your father) fall, and how did this cause him to be paralyzed from the neck down?
It is quite a sad story of the “perfect storm.” He had Spinal Stenosis, undiagnosed Cervical Stenosis, and he was on blood thinners for his heart. He was simply watching TV in the family room, and we don’t fully know what happened, but he apparently got up from the couch and blacked out (whether from hypertension or hypotension) and fell from standing height onto a space heater and broke his neck. The broken neck caused his spinal cord to be injured, and the blood thinners caused the hemorrhage in the spinal cord and subsequent paralysis.
- How did you think to take the footage of your father while he was in the hospital given what you and your family were going through?
My dad bought me a new video camera two years prior to his accident. Filming in the hospital was a knee-jerk reaction and a way to “hold onto dad.” I did not look at the footage for six or seven years after the accident. I could not look at it. I don’t think anyone was conscious of the fact that I was filming — not even me. Nobody remembers me filming even though I was there in the middle. The situation was all consuming.
- How can it be that one can just disconnect one’s ventilator and life support and “choose to die”?
When someone is fully competent, they have the right to withhold life-sustaining treatment in the United States (in this case, the state of Illinois). Doctors are supposed to sustain life and relieve suffering, but competent patient’s wishes and autonomy prevail, requiring physicians to respect the decision to withhold life-sustaining treatment if someone can competently make his or her own decisions. (Life-sustaining treatment may include for example, mechanical ventilation, dialysis, chemotherapy, or artificial nutrition and hydration). It is a tricky topic, both morally and ethically in my opinion, because depression can also lead someone wanting to withhold life-sustaining treatment, even though they may be fully competent. Note that withholding life-sustaining treatment is not the same as euthanasia. In this case, my dad did not suffer any brain trauma. He lost full mobility below the neck. So he could think for himself and make the decision. He had the right to remove his mechanical ventilation, which results in death.
- How did you react to the fact that your dad chose to disconnect his ventilator and life support? How did your family handle the circumstances?
Prayers. Reasoning. Accepting. Fighting. Filming. Looking at the absurdity of it and even laughing sometimes. Because how the hell does someone break his neck while watching TV just after you just dinner together that night? Then all of a sudden he decides to die. That’s just not supposed to happen in the realm of reality. But I guess truth is stranger than fiction as the saying goes.
- What do you hope people take away from Should Tomorrow Be?
Love, family, strength, hope and a feeling that the heart should be full, despite the fact that life can sometimes be filled with unforeseen circumstances. What is also amazing to me is that everyone has a different reaction and takes away something different. Some people immediately think to situations where they have had to care for a sick or injured loved one, and this is why the film is dedicated to everyone who has been in that position. Some put themselves in the position of my dad or us and think about what they would do.
I would like to leave it to each person to have his or her own journey with the film.
- If you were put in this situation yourself, what would you do?
I think it could happen to anyone. And that is the point of the film as well. It demonstrates the fragility and coveted gift of life and family, and serves as a reminder for us to cherish every second of every day. It presents the ethical and moral crisis that any of us could be faced with. There is no easy answer, no right or wrong answer. The answer can only come from the depths of someone who is in a place where only he or she can be the final arbiter in such a struggle.
- Where do you see the future of documentary film and “guerilla film making”? Where do you see yourself in this process?
Every person on this planet has a story to tell — a compelling story. It is just a matter of whether you recognize it and decide to tell it or not. And you don’t necessarily need to have officially studied film. Sure, the tricks of the trade will be improved along the way, and technical knowledge will be enhanced over time, but the way to start is to just tell the story. The beauty of it all is that there are tools and resources out there for everyone to tell their stories, even if they have a small budget.
You don’t need to have a million dollars to impact people’s hearts, minds and souls. You need to have passion and a story to tell. When your heart speaks, there is no right or wrong. It is simply the heart speaking.
As for my future, I first want to tell this story. I have actually learned, from the content of the movie itself, to live in the present. Because we don’t know what the future will bring. We don’t know if tomorrow will be. I do have many more aspects about this story to tell and have more stories to tell, so let’s see what happens.
- This is your first film. You filmed, produced and directed it. How did you do that? What advice would you others in the same position?
Apologies for the cliched Nike reference, but just do it. My background is actually in international environment and resource policy, but I have two loves: the environment and my family. And when you love something and you pour your heart into it, that’s when you can potentially offer something special and meaningful to people. So with this love (and footage), I set off to figure out how to create the film. The circumstances were ripe. I met a friend who had just completed a short documentary. Another friend was offering a week-long guerrilla film making class. I knew people who created original music. My mother had beautiful songs available for me to use that she had sung and recorded 25 years prior. I also signed up for Apple’s One-to-One program for software and editing guidance. All of these influences came together.
I am happy with Should Tomorrow Be and it is what I want it to be. It is a song I wanted to sing. In terms of improvement, one can always improve. Next time, I will also pay closer attention to lighting, exposure and audio at the outset. I am my own honest critic, and I take pride in my work. At the same time, I would not necessarily redo an imperfect narration because I would rather it be technically imperfect with emotional authenticity verses technically perfect but unauthentic. And sometimes you might capture a moment that despite its possible flaws is too compelling not to use. Of course, one always strives for technical and narrative excellence to get the film to the very best point it can be, but the point is to start telling stories; learn and perfect your craft along the way. Anyone can tell the story and find the film tools to do so if they want to badly enough.
- What are your plans for Should Tomorrow Be?
My plan is to offer a message to people struggling with physical challenges, moral questions and highly challenging situations, that can sometimes be a matter of life and death. Share, share, share the message of fragility, love, family and hope; impact hearts, minds and souls. And hopefully, at some point, raise money for spinal cord injury and wheelchair foundations.
If pain can be turned into art, which can touch people’s hearts, and in turn be a force for good in the world, this will really mean, that yes, tomorrow should be, tomorrow will be, and tomorrow’s beauty is limitless.