Hills Learning

The Departure

Last month’s Tribeca Film Festival featured the world premiere of the documentary The Departure directed by Lana Wilson.  It profiles Ittetsu Nemoto, a Buddhist priest whose lifework is suicide prevention.  In the group sessions he holds at his temple, he introduces exercises that attempt to show attendees what ending their lives would really mean in terms of loss and even simulates the experience of dying.  Many participants come away with a renewed lease on life, and for those who don’t Nemoto makes himself available to them day and night whenever they need someone to talk to.

However, Nemoto’s devoted around-the-clock counseling takes its toll on him, both emotionally in his shouldering these countless stories of grief, and physically as he is suffering from heart disease and trying to stay healthy for his wife and young son.  The film reveals how Nemoto’s own life was touched by suicide in the past, as both his uncle and two high school friends took their own lives.  Nemoto and his family were on hand for the final screening of the film, after which I interpreted for him during the Q&A.  Although Wilson doesn’t speak Japanese, both she and Nemoto said this contributed to a more relaxed shooting atmosphere, as participants felt comfortable sharing more than they would have if they were being completely understood.





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