________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 23. . . .February 18, 2011


Drawing from Life.

Katerina Cizek (Writer & Director). Gerry Flahive (Producer). Silva Basmajian (Executive Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2009.
30 min., 34 sec., DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 153C 0109 240.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.

Review by Frank Loreto.

**** /4



I have been teaching long enough to have experienced the suicide deaths of a number of students. Each time I struggled to understand what made that route a better choice than finding help.

      Drawing from Life follows 20 weekly therapy sessions attended by 14 people who have attempted suicide at least twice. The film, compressed into a 30 minutes, gives the viewer a taste of the difficulty experienced by the participants. Several of the group members are given the opportunity to talk about themselves on camera. Although one states early in the film that "Life is more scary than death," there is clearly the desire to make this work.

      Some sessions are difficult for the participants and not easy to watch while others show progress. By the end, most talk more optimistically and make reference to twenty years from now. They all praise the value of the group, and the facilitator is pleased with the progress each has made.

      Drawing from Life is a raw presentation. Because the group members speak honestly and frankly, at times the language reflects their frustration and/or sadness. Although the film is short, the viewer gets to see a side of those featured that would not be offered in any other way.

      Filmmaker/director/editor Katerina Cizek took her project to Sheridan College where the Animation Arts Centre incorporated animation into the work. Several animators added a further dimension to the words of the group members. While they speak, the background at times comes alive with animation of various kinds. This was a risky gambit as, done badly, it would have undermined the honesty of the interviews. However, it works beautifully as it reflects how the speakers feel.

      On its own, Drawing from Life is an excellent film and should be required viewing by all teachers, counsellors, and administrators. The viewer is given some insight into the world view of the group participants. Their reasons for attempting suicide are as varied as the group participants. No one is immune. The film celebrates the good work being done at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, and the film would be applicable in any Social Science class at the senior level.

      Where the film continues to shine is in the special features. Art and media teachers would be interested in the Chapters entitled "Animate This" and "Why Animation?" Here, the animators talk about their enhancements to the film and what they were hoping to achieve.

      In "Participants Watch the Rough Cut," a number of the session members get to watch the film and comment on how the film turned out. One points out that it was difficult to compress the 20 weeks into a 30 minute presentation and that the film felt rushed. Other group facilitators also comment. Clearly, this film was made with great respect for those featured, and overall, the comments are complimentary.

      In "Case Study for Facilitators," the director interviews Yvonne Bergmans who leads the group. Here, she points out that, while this particular group made progress, things do not always go that way. She has had a number of such groups, and she states that each one is different. She also admits that things can go very wrong--quickly. This is not evident in the film as she seems to be in constant control without being controlling. To prove her point, one session is expanded, and the viewer gets to see a solid, unedited 10 minute portion. This is gruelling to watch as the participant is clearly having difficulty with the session. In the film, this particular session is presented for a few moments only. For anyone wishing to get into therapy as a career, this is excellent to see.

      As an added bonus, Drawing from Life can be watched in descriptive video with subtitles.

Highly Recommended.

Frank Loreto is a teacher-librarian at St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in Brampton, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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