Philip Hoffman - What these ashes wanted (2001)

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“In the documentary film What these ashes wanted Hoffman arranges the jagged bits of life he shared with writer Marian McMahon. Her early death in 1996 provoked this essay on mortality. Hoffman’s goal: “to illuminate the conditions of her death… the mystery of her life and the reason why, at the instant of her passage, I felt peace with her leaving… a feeling I no longer hold.” Using painterly swatches of sunflowers, hand-processed film, found sound recordings, the “antiseptic fictions” of doctors and other mortal icons, Hoffman takes us on journeys to London, Helsinki and Egypt. Pondering morbidity in its many forms, Hoffman discloses an early photographic assignment involving his deceased grand-father, a failed suicide, and his own personal numerology of death centering on the number seventeen. Through these and other memories, he develops a soul-searching vocabulary of love for one whose journey continues into the beyond. ‘If you had to make up your own ritual for death, what would it be? Would it be private or shared?’ asked his partner, Marian. Hoffman’s answer is this beautiful document. (San Francisco International Festival Catalogue, 2002)

What these ashes wanted (2001, 55 minutes, 16mm)
Music by Tucker Zimmerman

Golden Gate Award, New Visions, San Francisco International Film Festival 2002
Gus Van Sant Award, Ann Arbor Film Festival 2002
Telefilm Canada Award, Images Film Festival, Toronto 2001

What these ashes wanted places flesh on the poet Ann Carson’s words “…death lines every moment of ordinary time.” With this work Hoffman resides in an acutely intimate time, a daily practice of loss lived precariously between the terror of psychic disintegration and the provisional solace taken through public rituals of mourning. What these ashes wanted is not a story of surviving death, but rather, of living death through a heightening of the quotidian moments of every day experience. (Images Festival Catalogue, Toronto 2001)

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