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Story Stories

A Behind the Scenes look at Living with the Dead from CPR News (Colorado Public Radio)


Arts Reporter Ange-Aimee Woods reporting for CPR News. Graveyards do not generally make comfortable homes for people who still have a pulse.

But “Living with the Dead,” a new documentary by Colorado filmmaker Jessica Chance which opens at the Sie FilmCenter on Saturday, March 29,  tells the story of the thousands of living people who call a cemetery in Manila, the capital city of the Philippines, home.

Manila is the world’s most densely populated city with more than 43,000 residents per square kilometer. Poverty and overpopulation partly explain why more than 2,000 people have chosen to live in a cemetery that also houses hundreds of thousands of the city’s Catholic dead.

“I agreed to be interviewed so that people would know that you can live anywhere with dignity,” Jenny Juan, a mother of four who lives in a mausoleum with her husband, says.

Some of the residents featured in the documentary, like Angelina Cabuso, a grandmother who came to live in the cemetery after her home was devastated during World War II by Japanese and U.S. troops fighting for control of the city, have lived in the city’s North Cemetery for generations.

“We were born to this situation, we endure it,” Steve Cabuso, her son, who was born in the cemetery, says.

Cabuso earns his living by looking after tombs near the North wall of the cemetery. He keeps the graves clean and receives a little money from the families of the dead in return for his work.

Cabuso’s daughter Jennylyn, who is graduating from college this year, vows to leave the cemetery her family has lived and worked in for generations.

CPR caught up with Denver filmmaker Jessica Chance, the director and co-executive producer of “Living with the Dead,” to find out more about the making of the documentary.

Read Ange-Aimee's "Five Questions," here:

We Made a Movie. Now What?


by Patrick Gillespie, Editor and Production Assistant and Jessica Chance, Director and Producer

We’re on to the next step forward following the completion of Living with the Dead. The process has been nonstop, there was only nominal relief when I exported the final version before we carried on to the next step. Screenings, downloads, distributions... Our first, and simplest, step is to show the film to all those that wish to see it locally. So many friends and family have been a part of this project in different ways and have been asking for years now when they get to see it. This project would have been impossible without the help of so many in Ohio, Denver, Manila, and many places in between and we can’t wait to share it with everyone who has played a part along the way.

Indeed, one of the driving ideas behind the film is to pose hard questions and present difficult realities in order to generate discussion. On a bigger and broader scope, the film is about Manila itself and our end goal is to distribute it there. The subjects of the film and those who are directly affected by the issues we present, deserve to see it more than anyone. Living with the Dead raises a lot of questions and many of the issues we explore are unresolved in Manila and many places around the world (lack of adequete housing, education, access to reproductive health, issues around separation of Church and State, and more.) We hope the film will be a tool to fuel discussion for many NGOs working to better lives in Manila and elsewhere. If you are a Manila based nonprofit involved in the aforementioned issues and are interested in sharing the film, please contact us! We want to help.

As we work on answers to foreign distribution, in Denver, at least, we finally we have an answer to the persisting question of, “When can we see it?”

The answer: Saturday March 29th at 7pm, we will be screening Living with the Dead at the Sie Film Center, more details and tickets can be found here.

We’re incredibly excited. It’s a unique experience to finally share the work in which our hearts, minds and  time have been so immersed for so long. I imagine it will be good to let people know that, yes, we did actually make a film. The screening will be a great time, we’ll have a small reception afterwards (and Sie is one of our favorite theaters in Colorado).

After the screening though, we have more questions to answer. What now? Distribution in a modern market is a strange, evolving world. DVDs are largely by the wayside. We’re in the process of submitting to a host of festivals (we recently found out that we are an official selection of the Atlanta Philosophy Film Festival), but won’t find out about others for some time. Getting the film up on Netflix or iTunes is a lengthy and risky process, but perhaps a rewarding one... We want to make sure the film reaches any and all that wish to see it, and think we’ve come up with an idea of how to do just that... More on that soon - we promise.

Until then, we hope to see you on the 29th!

- The Chance Multimedia Team

Storytelling: What's the Point?


By Patrick Gillespie, Editor and Production Assistant It seems as if the world is becoming saturated with certain buzzwords: Sustainability. Community. Impact. Development. I know all these phrases and more come up in conversations at Chance Multimedia quite frequently. For me, it’s been easy to get lost in the deluge of these words. When they come up around clients and our work, I haven’t always taken the time to step back and really take a look at what we’re talking about, instead just proceeding on- another day on set or at the office.

Sometimes though, I have to remind myself what we’re doing here. The reason why I work at Chance. The work we seek out to do is about helping people. It’s easy to frame any kind of work in these terms, I’ve done so many times in the past. But the projects we seek to undertake are, at their core, an attempt to directly benefit others and increase their quality of life. And that’s what it’s about for me, that’s why I’m here. I know it’s the same for Jess and James too. It’s a fundamental tenet of Chance, and what drew me to apply here in the first place.

Take the documentary we’ve been working on, Living with the Dead is about so many things. I had to think about it for so long in terms of storytelling that I became slightly removed from the reason behind the story. These are real people in front of our lenses. There’s a reason we’re telling this story. Not because it’s visually appealing, not because it’s a captivating story, a unique setting. It is all of these things, but the reason this story is being told is to have an impact. If we were able to ease the struggle of any character in the film or influence the mindset of those who see it, then the film will have been successful.

I think it’s good to remind ourselves of this every now and then. Six hours into trying to figure out an animation hardly anyone may notice, these thoughts are usually far from my head. But that little animation, a subtle cut- those are the first tentative steps in this process that is not about me, not about Chance Multimedia. It’s about leaving the burden of those who carry one a little easier to bear. Hopefully our newest endeavor, Stories Without Borders, will enable us to do this even more. By working as a registered nonprofit, we will be able to better serve those who normally would be unable to tell their stories. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this is an increased ability to empower. Rather than always speaking for others, we aim to help train a new generation of storytellers to provide an honest look into their lives. This extension of our ideals is more exciting to me than any undertaking we’ve embraced since the documentary and I’m incredibly excited to see where it goes.

- Patrick

Living with the Dead - Notes from a Documentary Editor


by Patrick Gillespie, Chance Multimedia Editor and Production Assistant

This project was a host of different firsts for me. My first professional documentary edit, my first feature, the first time I cut a documentary that I did not produce and direct. Coming into the project after all production was complete was by far the most difficult part for me. Sitting down in front of a blank timeline with days of footage and nearly a hundred pages of interview transcriptions from characters I had never met was daunting to say the least. I figured the easiest way to go about it was just like any other film I’ve cut, bit by bit. Start small, take an idea or a theme from an interview and cut together one scene. Pretty soon a couple seconds are down, then a small sequence. It does start to come together, bit by bit. Pretty soon you’re creating a story.

Or rather, the story begins to create itself. I began to see the characters beyond their transcriptions, as people with emotions and histories. These began to fall into place into a greater context- one character’s stories from WWII evolved into an exploration into the little-known history of Manila in WWII. The struggle of a family living within the cemetery walls was revealed to be a small piece in the same puzzle that also included the perils of overpopulation and a Reproductive Health Bill in limbo in the Philippine Congress. It’s been a process of evolution, discovery, and constant reconstruction- much like Manila itself. Sequences were added, deleted, re-worked and added again. There were the inevitable dull moments, yet surprising instances of excitement- finding parts of a crucial interview that I was unaware existed. The sheer labor involved in editing a film was thankfully not much of a surprise. Pulling a single sentence from a transcribed interview in Tagalog into the timeline and subtitling it often took five minutes or more.

The author in a moment of repose during the epic Living with the Dead edit.

The author in a moment of repose during the epic Living with the Dead edit.

The author in a moment of repose.

As the film started to come together, I felt a sense of nervous pride as I played through it for the 1000th time. It truly is about the compassion, the resilience of the characters living in a situation that most couldn’t even conceive of. Their lives are the true story, one which we were fortunate enough to document. The direction I had over the story was a gift, one that I am grateful for. We’ve created a film here, each of us playing our respective parts, different in their own ways. I’ve felt fortunate to be a part of this process and a part of this team, challenged to take on a role and dedicating myself to see it through.

- Patrick

Pat did an amazing job with this edit. We're so grateful to have him as a part of our team! - Jessica Chance