Motivated by their own personal experiences with loss, two long-time friends - Michael Bernhagen, a healthcare business development professional turned hospice advocate, and Terry Kaldhusdal, an award-winning public school teacher and filmmaker - decided to join forces in 2009 to produce a series of documentaries that has inspired thousands of conversations about end-of-life wishes.
Their first project, Consider the Conversation: A Documentary on a Taboo Subject, was partially funded by private donations including the donation of 3,500 hours of labor from the producers. It shared the perspectives of three terminally ill patients as well as the professionals who care for these kinds of people - doctors, nurses, social workers, clergy and several leading national experts. The film premiered in front of a sold out theatrical audience of 755 on 2/5/11, was released on DVD on 3/1/11 and its broadcast rights donated to public television stations via the National Educational Telecommunications Association (NETA) on 6/18/11. During its two and a half year PBS run, Consider the Conversation aired 611 times on 176 stations in 33 states and won 11 awards including journalistic excellence, viewer impact, and use of film for social change.
More importantly, Consider the Conversation helped inspire the Wisconsin Medical Society to launch Honoring Choices Wisconsin, a statewide initiative seeking to make facilitated advance care planning conversations between medical professionals, patients and families a standard part of patient care in the Badger State. 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 within the expert culture of medicine.
Their second project, Consider the Conversation 2: Stories about Cure, Relief, and Comfort, was also partially funded by private donations including the producers' labor. It premiered on Wisconsin Public Television on 5/27/14, was nominated for a Regional Emmy® by the Chicago/Midwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences on 9/23/14, and released to public television stations nationwide via the National Educational Telecommunications Association (NETA) on 9/26/14. Consider the Conversation 2 takes a hard look at some of the unintended consequences of American medicine's success at fighting disease/extending life and sheds light on the important role of the patient/doctor relationship and patient/doctor communication when living with severe chronic disease. Broadcast 1,588 times on 268 PBS stations in 41 states, Consider the Conversation 2 won eleven awards, including two Bronze Tellys and the 2014 Global Film Awards Humanitarian Award.
Meet the Filmmakers
THESE ARE SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURS IN ACTION
Terry Kaldhusdal (left), shown with his wife Janet, was Wisconsin's 2007 Teacher of the Year, the 2014 Fellow of the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes, and is an award-winning documentarian. His brother Pete's fight with pancreatic cancer brought Terry to focus on how we treat people who are seriously ill and his film work on end-of-life care has been called "narrative ethics at its best" by Myra Christopher, Founding Director of the Center for Practical Bioethics. During his 5-year (2009-2014) collaboration with Michael Bernhagen in this important genre, their work garnered 22 awards and an Emmy nomination.
Michael Bernhagen (right), with his wife Denise, is the Director of Community Engagement & Care Partner Relations at Rainbow Hospice Care in Jefferson, Wisconsin. Watching his mother Rita's slow decline from congestive heart failure and vascular dementia as well as the struggle of his family and her doctors when dealing with the process inspired Mike to leave curative medicine and join the hospice movement in 2004. Over time, Bernhagen's work has helped transform Jefferson County, Wisconsin into an "island of excellence" for end-of-life care. That is, it has become a place where more people receive hospice care at end-of-life than almost everywhere else in the United States (currently ranks 35th out of 3,143 counties nationally - Top 1.1%).
In 2017, Kaldhusdal and Bernhagen were nominated for a Humanities Award by the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine for their work on the Consider the Conversation film series. Amazingly, their film projects were never awarded a grant by any
foundation devoted to improving end-of-life care.
How were the Consider the Conversation films funded?
The Consider the Conversation film series was funded, in part, by private donations to a restricted fund established by the Rainbow Hospice Foundation, the fundraising arm of Rainbow Hospice Care, one of only six remaining independent and non-profit hospice programs operating in the state of Wisconsin.
Approximately $43,000 was raised by the producers for Consider the Conversation: A Documentary on a Taboo Subject and $44,000 for Consider the Conversation 2: Stories about Cure, Relief, and Comfort. These funds helped cover some, but not all, production expenses.
In order to complete the films, producers Michael Bernhagen and Terry Kaldhusdal donated 7,500 hours of their time - 3,500 for Consider the Conversation 1 and 4,000 for Consider the Conversation 2 - and spent some of their own money where necessary.
Unfortunately, none of the 23 grant applications they submitted to various foundations for additional funding related to production and distribution of the films were accepted.
In September of 2013, producer Michael Bernhagen experienced a medical crisis because of the stress associated with this part of the production process. From that point forward, attempts by the producers to raise funds through grant applications ceased.