“Homegoings”

by M-Berens

Through the eyes of funeral director Isaiah Owens, the beauty and grace of African-American funerals are brought to life in "Homegoings".

Why shouldn’t we dance at a funeral? Why do so many of us become so unrecognizable when we attend the funeral of a family member and turn into unsmiling caricatures of ourselves all dressed in black?  While so many cultures tend to hold somber tributes to a loved one, the African-American tradition of a homegoing is truly a celebration of life. As the family was in life they continue to celebrate and remember their loved ones in death with singing, dancing, story telling and laughter.

Homegoings is a new film directed by Christine Turner that examines the history and traditions associated with African-American funerals. Turner is an independent filmmaker in New York. As a researcher and producer, she has contributed to numerous documentaries for PBS, HBO and OWN, and her short fiction films have screened at the Tribeca Film Festival, San Francisco International Film Festival and on PBS.

Shot over the course of four years, the documentary follows Isaiah Owens, owner of Owens Funeral Home in Harlem, through the initial planning to the burial of loved ones who come from real families. Turner initially read about Owens and his attention to detail in making people look beautiful in death and was curious to learn more about him.  When the two met, she was struck by Owens’ personal story and the two began filming in 2009.

“I wanted to make a documentary that explored African American funerary traditions, but do so through the personal story of Mr. Owens and the different families he serves,” said Turner. Homegoings artfully tells those stories. There’s a story of a woman, whose funeral procession turned into a parade, as people off the street who knew her, joined in to celebrate her life; a grandson mourning his grandmother’s death only to have to attend a double funeral when his grandfather died just a day later, and another woman who visits the funeral home to plan the details of her homegoing right down to the color of her hair. Turner has managed to make these simple stories of death and mourning ring out with so much life.

And all through the narrative, Owens remains the one constant adding his own comforting rituals to funerals that he has performed for most of his life. Though grief is evident on the faces and in the stories of the families depicted, there is an underlying sense of joy in the way they decide, with Owens’ help, to send their loved ones home.

“To many families, Mr. Owens very much functions as a bridge between life and death,” said Turner. Owens has been offering his services as a funeral director for more than 40 years but he found his calling when he was only five years old. Growing up on a farm, he buried anything, said his mother, and neighbors would come to him when a pet died so that he could hold a funeral. “In the midst of life we are in death,” said Owens in Homegoings -  his insight is simple, straightforward and oddly comforting.

Christine Turner is the director of "Homegoings".

The massive task of putting together over one hundred hours of footage and archival images of funerals in the African-American community was accomplished with the help of a very professional team. Turner has worked previously with both cinematographer Marshall Stief, who has worked on documentaries and non-fiction television shows for History Channel, Food Network and Bravo, and Sonejuhi Sinha who is the editor of the film and has worked on high profile music videos and award-winning ad campaigns. After hearing the music of Daniel Roumain, who has collaborated with the likes of Philip Glass, Bill T. Jones and Lady Gaga, Turner called him up out of the blue, showed him footage that she had filmed and asked him if he’d consider composing the music for the film, which he readily agreed to do.

Homegoings will premiere on February 28, 2013 at the Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMA) Documentary Fortnight 2013 in New York City. The screening will include a discussion with Christine, and a solo violin performance by Daniel Roumain. Owens and those family members who appeared in Homegoings will also be present. Turner was very appreciative of the families who agreed to tell their stories in the film and though they didn’t know her or her crew Turner says, “They trusted Mr. Owens and so they trusted me.”

Homegoings will air on POV (Point of View) in the summer of 2013. Turner has always been a huge fan of PBS and POV in particular and considers it an honor that Homegoings will be featured.

For more information visit Homegoings Website.

 

©2018 mysendoff.com, All rights reserved.