Community Screenings of “Being Mortal”
Lights, Camera, Action: Using Film to Engage Californians in Advance Care Planning
In 2014 Harvard surgeon and writer Atul Gawande published the best-seller Being Mortal about modern medicine and the larger culture’s difficulty with accepting death. In February 2015, a FRONTLINE documentary also called “Being Mortal” aired on public television stations nationwide. The program, which follows Dr. Gawande, shares the close-up experiences of several patients and families at the end of life, including his own. The film was funded by the John and Wauna Harman Foundation. (See the complete film online.)
While 2.4 million people watched the “Being Mortal” documentary when it was broadcast, viewing by African Americans, Latinos, and Asians was very low, together comprising only 11% of viewing households. The viewing audience also lacked diversity in other areas such as education level and age.
To help amplify the conversation, CHCF and the Harman Foundation teamed up to promote community screenings of “Being Mortal.” Thirty-nine organizations across the state were selected to host screening events. Held in a variety of community settings and targeting diverse audiences, the screenings and post-screening discussions were intended to educate participants about choices they might make if they had a serious illness and to encourage them to identify and communicate their wishes to those who matter.
A post-screening email survey found that 91% say they are now more comfortable discussing their end-of-life wishes, and 81% say they have talked to someone about the kind of care they would want if they were dying. Some of the screening participants shared their stories and photos; see below.
The complete survey results, along with an issue brief that summarizes the project, is available for download below. See a February 2016 interview with Dr. Gawande about turning his book into a film.
Being Mortal Community Screening Toolkit
This guide provided sponsors of local film screenings with recommendations for creating a successful event, including engaging audiences, event planning tips, a sample agenda for the post-film discussion, and more. It is available as a Document Download along with contact information for all the screening locations.