Clark Wang was a psychiatrist, a musician, and a man in a deep and loving relationship and he was dying of lymphoma. He made the time he had left profoundly meaningful in the way he chose to say goodbye by using his death and plans for an eco-burial to save a wooded area scheduled to be cut down for a cemetery. Wang was committed to having his last act give back to the earth as purely and harmoniously as possible.
Part of that thoughtful, generous resolve included his participation in the moving and inspiring documentary, "A Will for the Woods," already the audience award winner at four different film festivals. The film is about a life of purpose and a death with meaning.
There is a contrast between the health professionals on screen who use a lot of euphemisms like "outcome" and the directness and honesty of Wang, his friends, and Dyanne Matzkevich, the sympathetic cemetery manager who becomes a close friend as well.
While a doctor speaks vaguely of clinical trials as a way to convey that all possible treatments have failed, a friend builds a coffin to Wang's specifications, from reclaimed wood, and, as the film opens, we see Wang not just try it on for size but literally dance on it.
Producer/co-director Amy Browne said in an interview that
People are eager to have these conversations. That's why I think people are connecting with the film. It's because they connect so much with the idea and hopefully also the way that it's presented. Things need to change and it feels like the funeral industry is on the verge of an evolution and people are going to be demanding this option as the baby boomers are having funerals for their parents and very soon for themselves. They've always been the revolutionary generation and I think this option speaks more to their mindset, moving away from the sort of industrialized processes that have been going on for the last few decades.
Co-director/editor Tony Hale added, "It allows us to talk about death in a way that we haven't talked about in a long time because there is no vocabulary for it any more. This is about reclaiming rituals that may have been lost in the last hundred or two hundred years."
Browne says the film has been well received within the funeral industry.
We played at the ICCFA convention, which is the International Cemetery Cremation and Funeral Association. That was a big deal. A lot of people were really touched by the story and peripherally we influenced some directors in funeral homes to provide this option....Conventional folks would just have their mindset in one traditional way where the only way to have a funeral that's respectful is to have this elaborate casket and flowers and a manicured lawn cemetery setting. But those are also the types of people who turned their back on cremation twenty years ago and kind of lost out on that as the cremation rate continued to rise. As the funeral director says in the film, the main issue as to why some haven't embraced it within the industry is that they don't want to appear like they've been doing it wrong or that there is something the matter with these traditions.
It is especially touching to see the filmmakers become a part of the story through their intimate involvement as Wang and his partner, Jane Ezzard were managing his final illness and preparing for his death and burial. They even appear briefly in the film. After Wang's death, Ezzard begins to sob and we can hear one of the filmmakers comforting her. Browne said that rather than try to be journalistically objective, it was
more of a participatory documentary. During the funeral scene sometimes while we are filming, we would be the only people there at the end of the evening. We were staying at Jane's house and we put the camera on a tripod sometimes to film ourselves in the process of taking care of Clark's body because we were the ones doing it and we wanted to record everything. It felt very natural to step out from behind the camera and be involved. I can't imagine doing it any other way. We wanted to lift the veil on the relationship between filmmaker and subject.