SOJ Hosts Screening of ‘Obit’

By Rachael Eyler

Filmmaker and director Vanessa Gould discusses her latest documentary “Obit” with Stony Brook School of Journalism students. Photo by Rachael Eyler

Journalism students at Stony Brook University got a behind the scenes look into Vanessa Gould’s buzzworthy documentary, “Obit,” following a screening of the film and a conversation with the filmmaker on Tuesday, Oct. 17.

The documentary takes an inside look at the Obituary Desk at The New York Times,  which features a small staff of obituary writers, including Journalism lecturer Paul Vitello.  Inspiration for the documentary came from the idea of bringing a visual aspect to what is normally a print piece of history, Gould explained.

According to Gould, the documentary, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2016, took seven years to create, as there were a number of challenges. Gould said she pitched the idea to the paper’s editor on multiple occasions before being approved to film, and fell into a cycle of “filming, editing and fundraising.”

“I definitely didn’t think it would take seven years, it was sort of a naiveté,” Gould said. “If you really knew how hard it was going to be you wouldn’t do it, but I was just inspired by the insights of history. … We just had to keep pushing [the idea] further and further.”

Throughout filming the documentary, Gould explained how she was fascinated by The New York Times’ century old archives — the morgue. Gould said she wanted to write down the names from different obituaries because she saw a “documentary waiting to happen.”

“Obit” premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last year.

“It’s almost inevitable that those lives can be documentaries,” Gould said. “They are part of something I’ve never even heard of, or they invented something I’ve never even heard of. It’s almost hard to believe that these are stories we don’t hang on to.”

Gould advised aspiring journalist and filmmakers to push for covering an idea that they care deeply about and not to question it.

“Follow your intuition, do stories you love, don’t design a story you think someone else will love,” Gould said. “It can sometime be hard but it’s worth it.”