Bringing the Dead to Life


The end of each year brings many life-affirming traditions: family gatherings, gift-giving, the joy of … uh, imbibing. And part of finishing each calendar period is to remember, and reflect upon, who among us we’ve lost; thus, the appearance of numerous necrology recaps every December. Who of interest died this year? We’ll be reminded.

So it seems appropriate, even in this month of general happiness, to present Obit. Set for screening December 21-23 at the Flint Institute of Arts, it’s a documentary about the how the folks at America’s “newspaper of record” – The New York Times – create obituaries that bring the dead to life. How does one sum up a life in 500 words (or less)? And with style and wit? We find out in this film, directed by Vanessa Gould.

“I show up in the morning and I say, ‘Who’s dead?’” says Bruce Weber, a Times obit staffer. “Someone puts a file on my desk, and that’s what I do all day.”

It’s not just about who are the most “important” people to die. Some of the most interesting obituaries are about “regular” folks who lived irregular lives. How does one write about the bombardier on the Enola Gay, or “King Cupid of the Catskills”? The best obits are more about life than death.

In Obit. (yes, the period is part of the title), we also visit the Times’ “morgue” – the home of many decades of ancient clippings and photographs (saved pre-digital age) – that make up a library of sorts to which the writers can refer. But be careful with those items, for as one reporter says, “if you misfile it, it’s gone.”

Sadly, the slow death of American journalism, accelerated in places like Flint, has even reached the Big Apple. Many of the Times’ obit writers shown in the film are no longer with the publication – but we can still celebrate their craft.

Besides Obit. (95 minutes, not rated), the Friends of Modern Art presents three other films in December. British comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon continue their food-and-fun travels with The Trip to Spain, showing December 1-3 (108 min., not rated). In the fact-based The King’s Choice (December 8-10, 133 min., not rated), the Norwegian monarch is faced with a world-changing decision circa 1940. And the great Catherine Deneuve co-stars in the French drama The Midwife (December 15-17, 117 min., not rated).

In addition to the above FOMA-sponsored screenings, the FIA is teaming with the Flint nonprofit Communities First in the next of a series of films focusing on African American people and culture. This month’s entry, slated for December 14 at 7pm, is 13th, the Oscar-nominated documentary that points up the disparity with which American black people are incarcerated.

For times and more information on FIA films and other events, visit or call 810.234.1695.

In commercial theaters, the month’s biggest attraction is easily Star Wars: The Last Jedi, opening December 15. Need I say more? Since we’re celebrating life after death, I will: R.I.P., Carrie.



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