September 20 – 2PM + 7:30 PM
USA, 2016 – Rated PG – 93 minutes
Directed by Vanessa Gould
Cast: Bruce Weber, William McDonald, Margalit Fox
A fascinating and lively look at the inner workings of the team responsible for The New York Times’ obituary section, Obit chronicles the ways in which life, death, and the written word intersect to create personal and public legacies that resonate long after our time is up.
Director Vanessa Gould presents the obit department as an entertaining and eccentric crew of writers and editors who are charged with the daunting daily task of chronicling the life and legacy of complete strangers. With a primary focus on the details of life rather than death, the writers also wryly acknowledge that their profession doesn’t exactly make them popular at cocktail parties. However, as new assignments fall onto their desks, each writer carefully delves into the histories of politicians, celebrities, inventors, authors, and adventurers, gently detangling the complex minutiae of a lifetime of familial myths, newsworthy accomplishments, and amusing anecdotes.
Obit quietly meditates on a seemingly morbid subject that, more often than not, provides surprisingly life-affirming moments of humour, nostalgia, and humanity. Whether compiling the obituaries for public figures like Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, or telling the life story of the man responsible for Kennedy’s masterful televised debate against Nixon, the writers approach each assignment with equal parts gravitas and curiosity.
A look into the archives of “advance obits,” or obituaries that are prepared and continually edited for still-alive famous figures, may seem like a gloomy fact of the business, but it is also a testament to the department’s dedication to presenting accurate and timely historical records of personal legacies.
Engaging, lively, and warmly funny, Obit proves to be an unexpectedly vibrant celebration of life.
“At The New York Times, the obituary beat is no career dead-end. Editor William McDonald gets to weigh the desires of writers like Bruce Weber and Paul Vitello, who seem often to fall in love with these people they’ll never meet. Those writers make for fun company here, however much they claim people avoid them at cocktail parties.”
– John DeFore, The Hollywood Reporter
“Overall, this is a competently made, elegant and insightful film that celebrates life and writing far more than it languishes in the tragedies of death.”
– Molly Laich, Missoula Independent
“The writers’ stories are juxtaposed snugly beside the details of their subjects to create an exceptionally tight, often hilarious film.” – Nathan Carson, Willamette Week