How to Die In Oregon is the second feature length documentary made by Peter D. Richardson (no relation). It followed Clearcut: The Story of Philmath, Oregon, Richardson’s first film, straight into the Sundance documentary competition.
The New York Times today reports that the screening in Park City was not well attended – not because the film is no good, but because it is.
Peter D. Richardson described his goal:
I knew that telling this story was going to be difficult because it would require extraordinary access and a willingness to participate in the film, not only on the part of an individual but sometimes an entire family and, critically, a physician. It wasn’t until two years into filming that I found what I felt to be this critical combination of characters to tell every aspect of the story. Cody Curtis, who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and her family gave me access into their lives and insight into the choice Oregonians have at end of life.
The film begins with the onscreen death of Cody Curtis. Perhaps the empty seats at the Sundance screening all belonged to critics who suddenly thought “Gee, maybe its a good time to go skiing!”
Shawn Levy, ordinarily unflappable, was at that screening. He writes that it took hours for him to recover his equilibrium:
I followed that with “How to Die in Oregon,” Peter Richardson’s absolutely shattering look at our state’s Death With Dignity law, particularly as it applied to the final days of Portlander Cody Curtis, who was struck with inoperable liver cancer at age 54. The lovely, funny, sincere and heroically open Curtis is the focus, but the film looks at a number of Oregonians who chose to take their own lives when faced with incurable disease and crosses the river to Washington to give an account of a 2008 ballot referendum that resulted in that state adopting its own Death With Dignity program. As I say, it was an emotionally devastating film even though it is level-headed and even-handed and has its feet squarely on the ground. (It will play at the upcoming Portland International Film Festival and on HBO in, it is hoped, the fall.)
I need to clarify that Peter D. Richardson did not consult with me before he chose a subject which I have addressed elsewhere.
I hereby claim How To Die In Oregon as an Oregon film, based on multiple qualifying criteria.
Update on January 29, 2011:
How To Die In Oregon is coming back from Sundance with the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary.
Congratulations, Peter D. Richardson!