Three short films exploring some of life’s most heartbreaking and revealing moments were the focus of a recent evening of conversation hosted by Joseph’s House, a 24-hour hospice for the homeless and dying.
The films, shown Oct 22, were created by poet and filmmaker Nic Askew. The first, “On the Edge of Life and Death,” portrayed life at Joseph’s House itself. The others looked at the onset of dementia and the death of a child.
Askew got the idea to make a film about Joseph’s House about a year ago when he was speaking at Georgetown University. He met a hospice staff member who told him about the place. Joseph’s House serves about 35 men and women per year with a primary mission to those with late stage AIDS and terminal cancer.
Askew decided to spend the day there and get a feeling for what it was like.
“When I walked up to the steps of Joseph’s House, it was like an immediate sense of belonging,” Askew said. He said his goal as a filmmaker was to capture the essence of the place and the people.
“The job is to see people, really see people, beyond what the world may see,” Askew said.
Patricia Wudel, who has run Joseph’s House for the past 15 years, said she felt Askew must have been guided by a higher power to her door. But that is the way things work at Joseph’s House, she said.
“How people come and hear of Joseph’s House will always be a great, great mystery to me,” she said. “I always feel it is God who brings each person through our door.”
Wudel is helped in her work by a staff of nurses, volunteers. The organization’s goal is to ensure that “each person is loved and cared for as family.”
The nonprofit offers this as its statement of purpose:
“At Joseph’s House, all are changed. We believe in love. We nurture and support our volunteers and staff members with as great an intention as we care for our residents. We learn to find a place of rest in the middle of things; just as it is, just as we are.”
The mission appealed to Askew, who is known for traveling the world to make and screen his films. Although all three of the short films shown at the Oct 22 event were deeply serious, Askew said he loves making comedies as well.
At the center, he sees his works as “human portraits,” he said.
“I make films to articulate the experience of these people.”
Askew left a life in the business world to become a poet filmmaker. He films organizations, leaders, brands, and simply everyday people expressing their pain, joy and life. More of Askew’s work can be found at soulbiographies.com.
“I got an idea, just out of the blue, to make films,” Askew said. “So I stood up and walked to a friend’s house and borrowed his camera and that was that. I’ve done nothing else since.”
He said he hoped “On the Edge of Life and Death,” helped capture the moments he witnessed in his time at Joseph’s House.
“I just hope tonight someone gets the experience of another person,” Askew said.
When he makes these human-portraits Askew likes to turn a last question back to the audience.
As the evening ended, a question remained flickering on the movie screen.
It was this: “Where is it that you belong?”