Katrine Philp Shares Her Documentary On Grief – SXSW Filmmaker In Focus

The 2020 SXSW Film Festival is right around the corner! Before you join us for the 2020 event, take a look at the films in our lineup a little bit better with our Filmmaker In Focus series.

Take a look at our Q&A with director Katrine Philp as she tells us about her film An Elephant in the Room, which will World Premiere in the Documentary Feature Competition.

"The children in the film are not afraid to talk about their feelings and their grief. They are amazing and brave, and I think we, as adults, can learn a lot from them." – Director Katrine Philp

In your own words, what does this film mean to you?

Katrine Philp: In every way this film is very close to my heart. The film is about children in grief, and while making this film, my dad died. I was very close to him and it was a very big loss for me. Fortunately, we talked very openly about life and death before he passed. I asked him if there was anything we had not had the chance to talk about and he said, "No, we have talked about everything". Being that open was of course also very difficult, but, it has helped me a lot in my grief.

What we experience in the documentary is also this openness. The children in the film are not afraid to talk about their feelings and their grief. They are amazing and brave, and I think we, as adults, can learn a lot from them.

What motivated you to tell this story?

KP: When I started my research on this film I didn't know that my dad was about to become sick and die, but feeling my own grief while filming these families made complete sense. I understood what the families were going through.

During the shoots I moved from Copenhagen to Morristown, NJ, with my husband (who is also the cinematographer of the film), and our two kids. We wanted to be closer to the families we were filming and be able to tell their stories in their own pace, when they were ready.

I think the idea for the film started some years ago, when I was painfully close to losing my sister-in-law. I saw how my brother and their three children were struggling with every day life, while she was fighting for her life. She miraculously lived, but it left marks – and I started getting interested in making a film about how children experience grief.

What do you want the audience to take away?

KP: An Elephant in the Room looks at grief from a child's perspective. But it's not only about grief – it's also about life, existence, and celebrating childhood. I hope the audience will get a personal experience where they can reflect on the big questions in life. It is sometimes heartbreaking to watch, but often also surprisingly funny to experience the many questions about life and death through the open and curious minds of kids.

The New York Life Foundation estimates that 1 in 15 loses a parent before the age of 18. Stricken by fear of the unknown, we try to ignore the pain. We encourage every little sign that grief is temporary, but it isn’t, and it will never disappear entirely. One of the worst things after my father died was the silence of people not knowing what to say, avoiding me, possibly struck with fear of how to talk about death and grief. I hope this film will make us all braver when we encounter people who have lost and I think the children in the film can help us with that.

What made you choose SXSW to showcase your film to the world?

KP: There is no doubt that SXSW is one of the top festivals to premiere for a film. I also like that it is not only a film festival, and that it attracts so many different people from all over the world. If you want your film to reach a broad and diverse audience, I am confident that SXSW is the place to be.

How did you find your subject?

KP: I heard on This American Life about a place similar to Good Grief, the place where we filmed. I was looking for a community that gives free support to children and families in grief and I started calling around. I wanted to find a place with diversity and with peer-to-peer support groups. When contacting Good Grief, I was met by a passionate and creative CEO, Joe Primo. He was immediately drawn by the idea of a film and welcomed us to join in. He and the incredible staff at Good Grief, helped us connect with the families, and I was sure there was a film to be discovered there. We continued to shoot on and off for a year.

Add An Elephant in the Room to your SXSW Schedule. Stay tuned as we share more interviews with our SXSW 2020 filmmakers!

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An Elephant in the Room - Photo by Adam Morris Philp

By Neha Aziz