A Documentary on a Taboo Subject

By Burning Hay Wagon Productions

Consider the Conversation is a remarkable, thought-provoking film that looks at many of the issues that we will all face at the end-of-life.  It opens the floodgates of thought and conversation on this most difficult and often taboo subject.  It helps to illustrate many areas of improvement in our health care system.  I would encourage everyone to watch this important film including physicians, healthcare workers, patients and families.  This film will help us to be better physicians, better nurses, better patients and better people.  

- James Roberts, M.D., Medical Director, Mayo Clinic Health System-Home Health & Hospice

Background

Motivated by their personal experiences with loss, Mike Bernhagen, Director of Community Engagement & Care Partner Relations at Rainbow Hospice Care of Jefferson, WI, and Terry Kaldhusdal, an Oconomowoc, WI teacher and filmmaker, decided to join forces in early 2009 to begin a creative journey that has resulted in a film entitled Consider the Conversation: A Documentary on a Taboo Subject.  This project sheds light on the 21st century American struggle with communication and preparation at life's end.  Throughout the film, there are intimate accounts of the emotional, spiritual, physical and social burdens associated with the historical shift that has occurred with dying.  Forty years ago, most people experienced a quick death, but today we are more likely to suffer a slow, incremental dying process.

Consider the Conversation: A Documentary on a Taboo Subject examines multiple perspectives on end-of-life care and includes information and experiences gathered from interviews with patients, family members, doctors, nurses, clergy, social workers, and national experts from around the country.  While in production, Mike and Terry donated more than 3,500 hours to the effort which included shooting 70 hours of film and conducting in-depth interviews with 40+ individuals from California, Illinois, Indiana, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont and Wisconsin.  The film begins with "person on the street" interviews conducted in New York City.

Among the national experts interviewed were:

Goals

Know that Consider the Conversation: A Documentary on a Taboo Subject does not seek to hand down answers.  Rather, it provides something far more important - the questions all of us need to contemplate.  That being said, the producers have three goals for this film: 1) to change the current American attitude from one that predominantly views end-of-life as a failed medical event to one that sees it as a normal process rich in opportunity for human development, 2) to inspire dialogue between patient and doctor, husband and wife, parent and child, minister and parishioner, and 3) to encourage medical professionals, healthcare organizations and clergy to take the lead in counseling others.

Impact

Eighteen months in the making and entirely funded by private donations, Consider the Conversation: A Documentary on a Taboo Subject premiered in front of a sold-out theatrical audience on February 5, 2011 at the Oconomowoc Arts Center.  On March 1, 2011, it was released on DVD via Amazon.com for personal and educational use. And, on June 18, 2011, its broadcast rights were donated to PBS stations via the National Educational Telecommunications Association (NETA). To date, the film has aired 611 times on 176 PBS stations in 33 states; been purchased on DVD by individuals and organizations from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Argentina, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, India, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden, Tasmania, United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom; and won eleven major awards including journalistic excellence, viewer impact and use of film for social change.

More important, however, is the fact that the producers' work helped inspire the Wisconsin Medical Society to launch a statewide, collaborative advance care planning initiative called Honoring Choices Wisconsin.  This outcome, chronicled in a 9/30/12 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story entitled Wisconsin Men's End-of-Life Documentary Makes Waves, was historic because it marked the first time film was used to inspire sweeping systemic change in the expert culture of medicine.

We invite you to take some time to explore this website.  Read about Mike’s personal calling to the project and Terry's new perspective from tragic news; view the trailers displayed above; and click on some of the pictures on the home page to hear from five people featured in the film.