Opening 4 Jun 2015
Bernd Scharmann grew up in a family of caretakers. Death was something he was always aware of. But in our western culture we tend to fear death and fear the closeness of being around death. In other cultures, living close with death is an everyday occurrence. Sometimes the dead even provide a home for the living.
In the documentary Nice Places to Die, Bernd Scharmann looks at four examples of people on three different continents that face death every day. Some of them even depend on it for their survival.
In Argentina a man earns his living driving corpses around the country to the place where the deceased wants to be buried. In Manila, the capital of the Philippines, poverty and homelessness has brought people to live in a cemetery. Between the graves and mausoleums whole families have set up makeshift homes, some even sleep on top of the coffins. Children play between the graves. In Cairo, Egypt, a cemetery has developed into an actual town. While the dead lay in vast rooms below ground, above families live their everyday lives. Generations have been born and raised here. There are even stores and a post office. In Sulawesi, an island in Indonesia, the Toraja ethnic group doesn't believe in death. They say they only believe in family. When someone dies, they are considered “sick.” The corpse is kept in the house until the family feels ready to let the “sick” person pass on to another life. This can sometimes take up to several years. The corpse is part of the family, it is given meals and talked to; young children even play beside it.
The documentary is well done. Viewers find themselves entering the lives of the people Scharmann visits and answers the questions: what happens with people who live in constant contact with death? Are they different than us? Does death provide them with something different? With his documentary Nice Places to Die, Bernd Scharmann brings across the message that the boundary between death and life doesn't have to be one of fear or sadness but can be one of survival, respect and love.
Bernd Scharmann died unexpectedly on the October 5, 2014. (Alana Leichert)