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10 Nov 2016

Screening: A Family Undertaking

Filmmaker Elizabeth Westrate will introduce and screen her 2004 documentary A Family Undertaking (PBS), which explores the home burial movement in the United States. The evening will conclude with a dialogue between Westrate and Margaret Schwartz, Professor in the Department of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University.

Film Description:

A Family Undertaking is a documentary film that follows several families as they forgo a typical mortuary funeral to care for their loved ones at home. This project was broadcast to critical acclaim on the PBS series P.O.V. in 2004 with an encore airing in 2006 and a coordinated broadcast on the Public Radio International program, The Next Big Thing. The film premiered at the Silverdoces Film Festival and was also broadcast internationally on the series True Stories: Life in the U.S.A. It has screened at festivals and art museums across the country, and was funded by The Independent Television Service.

Trailer for A Family Undertaking


Elizabeth Westrate is a documentary filmmaker based in New York City. She has over twenty years of production experience in feature documentaries, episodic television, music videos, and commercials. Currently, she is collaborating on projects with Roger Ross Williams and Dror Moreh. She is also producer and director of the James Wolfensohn Tribute Film & Oral History Project. Past projects include line producer for The Earth Moves, a feature length documentary about Philip Glass and Robert Wilson’s revolutionary opera “Einstein on the Beach”; producer and director of Passing On the Gift: Heifer International’s Mission to End Hunger; and line producer of the feature documentary The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town, among many other projects. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Film & Television Production from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University in 1992.

Margaret Schwartz is a professor in the Department of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University. Her work focuses on the problematic of the material and mediation—that is, between objects, bodies, and things, and the ways in which they are meaningfully articulated and circulated in media texts. Dr. Schwartz’s publications cover such themes as the corpse as cultural object, celebrity bodies in public, and translation as an act of communication ethics. She is the author of Dead Matter: The Meaning of Iconic Corpses (2015), published by the University of Minnesota Press. In it she argues that corpses only become legible insofar as they are productive of legacies—and thus productive of value in the age of late capitalistic nostalgia. She illustrates the ways in which corpses mean and matter as unique things, able to persist outside of the logic of late capitalism. In this way she suggests a model for a more humane mode of grieving.

Photo by Andrew Kist.

6:30 pm–8:30 pm

$10 members, students, seniors; $12 non-members

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