How a family keepsake grew into one of the most moving movies about death ever made – IndieWire | Episode Movies

Toolkit Ep. 177: “DIG!” and We Live in Public director Ondi Timoner on the unintentional journey to Last Flight Home.

Ondi Timoner didn’t know she was making a film when she began work on Last Flight Home; She simply wanted to document her father Eli’s last days as a record for her and her family. Due to debilitating health issues, Eli had chosen to die rather than be a burden to his family and used California’s compassionate nursing laws to end his life on his own terms and schedule. After getting over her initial shock, the “DIG!” and “We Live In Public” director set up cameras at her parents’ house and, with their and her siblings’ permission, began filming. “It was for personal use only,” Timoner told IndieWire. “It wasn’t supposed to be a movie. I just set these cameras up for our family’s archive and to capture and capture Daddy’s voice and personality.”

Timoner’s goal was to make the cameras as invisible as possible, and even she forgot they were there most of the time. “It felt like filmmaking was my first time in all these years of filmmaking,” she said. “It was there as a security blanket. I knew I wasn’t going to lose Daddy completely.” No one operated the DSLR cameras except Timoner, who placed them in vantage points where they could capture the drama without disturbing it. She also had a security camera on location that captured some key moments for the final film. “I had this camera because I knew I was going to get a shock and I wouldn’t be paying attention to the filmmaking process, and I wanted to make sure I knew what was happening in the chronology. Thank goodness because the cameras often ran out of batteries and the microphones broke, so when it came down to making a movie later on, that moment when dad called [my mother] next to his bed the only camera was this security camera.”

The decision to turn her footage into a feature film for the public began when Timoner’s sister, Rachel, asked her to edit a video for her father’s memorial. What was intended as a five or 10 minute clip roll became a 32 minute film when Timoner realized how much wonderful material she had. “The magic of the film had never affected me like this before,” she said. “I never realized the power of that until the moment dad suddenly lives at AVID. Also, he isn’t suffering anymore and I don’t have to worry about him being in pain. He’s where he wants to be and I can laugh with him and cry with him and there were all sorts of moments in that footage that I kind of missed. There’s something about the observing eye of the camera that allowed me to just observe these scenes.”

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Timoner was moved to see the strong response from people at the memorial to the video, and realized her footage could have a greater purpose — that she could make a film that not only celebrates her father, but helps the people who died Understanding and dealing with mortality explained, on a personal, human level, the need for compassionate voting laws. She returned to the editing room and the film quickly took shape. “I couldn’t stop cutting because Dad was right there,” she said. “I went into my office and spent time with him – nights, weekends, everything – and the film just flew through me. It was like I was channeling it more than making it. It was like I knew every shot instinctively – what should be in, what should be out. It was the most efficient process.”

The director screened an early — and extremely rough — cut of the film at the Sidewalk Film Festival as a secret screening with no prior publicity, just to see if it worked or if it was personal enough that it didn’t mean anything to anyone else. The audience was deeply moved by Eli’s story and Timoner knew there was something special about her. “What struck me the most was that there were these two or three guys back there, they were about 20 years old,” Timoner said. “They had no idea what they would see that day. And they said, ‘Now we have a man to emulate.’ And I was like, ‘Oh my god, I have to finish this.'” Timoner is still planning to make a dramatic feature film about her father that she’s been working on for years (a goal only made possible by the experience she’s getting to make, was fueled by documentary), but in the meantime, Last Flight Home is a remarkable celebration of a remarkable man — and one of the most insightful, devastating, and beautiful meditations on mortality in cinematic history.

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