It’s been almost two years since cancer took the life of James Pollard.
His final days—including the pursuit of a fittingly eccentric burial plan—were chronicled by the Vancouver theatre vet's cousin Carmen Pollard in the film For Dear Life, which went on to become an audience favourite at last year's DOXA Documentary Film Festival. Now the warm but unflinching doc gets its broadcast premiere on the Knowledge Network, on Tuesday (March 6).
Here's our interview with Carmen Pollard about the film, first published in the Straight in April 2017.
For Dear Life screens on the Knowledge Network at 9:00 p.m.
I really do believe that the whole point of the film is to start having more frank conversations around death and see it as part of our living experience and as a social process rather than just a medical event,” says Carmen Pollard, a local film-industry vet who intimately chronicled her cousin’s final years in the documentary For Dear Life.
Carmen’s film couldn’t be more blunt in its depiction of the process of dying. “It’s so messy and it’s not pretty and we don’t want to look at it, and, culturally, we just love control and youth and beauty,” she says. “This is the antithesis of all that.”
In the wake of his prostate-cancer diagnosis, Carmen was initially struck by “how much James wanted to talk about the fact that he was dying.” Two years later, she floated the idea of expanding the conversation into what she initially saw as an art installation. “He was a very public guy and he grew up in the theatre,” she says, “so he really saw the world through the lens of theatre, and for him life was a performance. I think with realizing this was the end for him, he saw it as an opportunity to take that even further and try to create a lasting project.”
So Carmen started to document James’s last days, beginning with her iPhone and then graduating to a real camera by the time the Knowledge Network came aboard. Besides observing her subject’s shocking physical decline, Pollard’s four-and-a-half-year diary frequently checks in with those closest to James, including his kids, his new romantic partner—that’s a whole story unto itself—plus the oncologists and palliative-care specialists that composed his close community toward the end.
And then there’s the whole R & D team: friends and family, that is, busy experimenting with dead rats, clay, and little caskets as they try to honour James’s wish to be preserved like “a bog man”.
“James always had what he would call hare-brained ideas about almost everything,” Carmen says with a laugh. “So nothing was a simple project. But I immediately knew he could pull it off, because I know him.”
Rather serendipitously, For Dear Life will premiere at the DOXA Documentary Film Festival almost a year to the day of James’s passing. Carmen notes that “it’s still pretty raw.”
“James wasn’t afraid of dying or the pain leading up to it, but he was so, so terrified of the actual moment of blinking out of existence,” she says. “Because he really, firmly believed that it was the end. For me, that’s the real tragedy of his story, and so—maybe just as a coping mechanism—I like to think that it’s not.”