mon 22/04/2024

A Time to Live: 'I did not want to reveal at the end who was alive or dead' | reviews, news & interviews

A Time to Live: 'I did not want to reveal at the end who was alive or dead'

A Time to Live: 'I did not want to reveal at the end who was alive or dead'

Sue Bourne had a huge impact with her 2016 film 'The Age of Loneliness'. Here she introduces her new documentary

Fiona, one of the participants in Sue Bourne's documentary 'A Time to Live'Natalie Walter

Do you ever wonder what you’d do if you were given a terminal diagnosis and told you may only have months to live? That question is what my latest film is all about. It may sound maudlin and sad but I can assure you it isn’t. And the reason for that is that the people I set out to find may have been terminally ill but they’d all chosen to make the most of the time they have left.

The film is honest, uplifting, thought-provoking and, I hope you don’t mind me saying this, it’s also pretty remarkable.

It’s not like other films I‘ve seen about death and dying because in essence it’s a film about life and living. It has taken a year to make and has been one of the most interesting and rewarding film-making experiences of my career. I knew I would need to find 12 people ranging in age from their twenties to their late sixties. It was a big ask and it took a long time to find them. We spent months talking to palliative care teams, charities and organisations working with the terminally ill. We trawled the internet for people who were blogging, writing or fund-raising. I did interviews for national and local radio. We talked to a lot of terminally ill people always making it clear it was for “background research” initially. Bit by bit we whittled the list down to our chosen 12. (Pictured below: Sue Bourne)

Sue BourneWhat had worked really well on my documentary The Age of Loneliness was having a shooting assistant producer work with me on the research and then doing the filming as well. So Natalie Walter joined me as shooting AP then David Williams joined us as a production/sound assistant when we were ready to film.

I didn’t want to start filming till I had our final list of interviewees. I needed to know everyone who was going to be in the film and exactly what I wanted to get from each of them. We were not filming unfolding narrative stories so their ability to tell their own story was critical. I wanted to know what it was like to be told you might die soon, how you come to terms with that news and how you find something positive in the prognosis. I was asking dying people to bare their souls on camera and I was asking some really tough questions. They had to be really honest with me and they had to know me quite well by the time we filmed them, and trust me.

I think they all agreed to take part because they believed in what I was trying to do. They wanted to make a contribution and help other people in the same position. They all said remarkable and surprising things. “I’ve had some of the happiest moments of my life since my diagnosis.” “I consider it a privilege to have the time to put my house in order.” “I’d rather have a short life lived well than a long life lived badly.” “I haven’t got much time left so I don’t want to waste that time being sad.” (Pictured below: Nigel)Nigel, A Time to LiveOnce I had the final 12 people we hit the road, three months driving round the country filming. We were constantly changing our schedule when people weren’t well. In our very first week one of our star interviewees died before we got to her. She was just 25 years old. It’s fair to say it was not easy at times. But we all believed so much in the film that we kept ourselves together and kept going.

At the end of filming the team disbanded and I took quite a long recuperative break before starting the edit. Then I spent 10 weeks with editor Sam Santana putting it all together. Again it was a pretty intense and relentless experience but also wonderful. We cried, we laughed, we carefully crafted our film to ensure we did the contributors proud. The composer Steve Isles’s contribution to the film was critical. We wanted to ensure there was a real lightness of touch to reflect the spirit of the people in the film – their indomitability and their sense of humour. (Pictured below: Paulette)Paulette, A Time to LiveFrom the word go I’d made a handful of key decisions. Firstly, that the film would only have the voices of people with a terminal diagnosis. No wives, husbands, children, relatives or friends. Secondly, there would be no hospitals, doctors or treatment. We stuck to that as well. Thirdly, I did not want to reveal at the end of the film who was alive or dead. I wanted their voices to live on. The BBC allowed me to do that, too.

One other difference in A Time to Live is that there is very little of my commentary voice. This film is about the contributors’ voices – not mine. I felt I had nothing more to offer other than introducing what I set out to do and signing off at the end to say I was not going to say who was alive or dead. We are all going to die one day. I hope this film will help when that time comes.

Below: browse a gallery of participants in A Time to Live (click on the thumbnails to enlarge)

I knew I would need to find 12 people ranging in age from their twenties to their late sixties

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Will be on the sofa at 9pm tonight.

Thank you for making this programme. I am so humbled by all the participants bravery. One in particular Paulette who I've known for a long time and have lost touch. I just cried when I saw her and was struck by her positivity and her outlook even though she knows she's dying. I don't know when you made this programme I'm going to try and find her, hopefully I'm not too late.

Just thanking you for this thoughts provoking and soul searching documentary. I will never see cancer or life and death same way.

I think these people are so amazing I get so sick and tired of people saying I want more in life when these people are making the best of what they have left my heart goes out to all of them .❤️

So fantastic, really enjoyed this documentary celebrating life until death. Thank you

What a remarkable, uplifting documentary. These delightful people have given me the comfort to imagine that my own father's thoughts during his terminal illness might have been brighter than I ever knew - it's something we simply never discussed, yet now I can imagine that he was more at peace than I have ever believed over the 15 years since he died.

Exactly how I felt.


A wonderful programme- I watched it with my children.

It was a lovely, heart warmimg programme. I found myself smiling throughout.

Thanks for this amazing documentary, my mother is in the last stages of type 4 and will more than likely be passing in the next couple of days. The spirit shown by the participants was really inspiring. Love and peace to all..

Fantastic documentary. Love to all

I've just lost my sister to lung cancer. I wish she had been alive to see this programme because she wouldn't let the doctors tell her how long she had. She thought she had three years but lasted eight months. She had definite ideas about her funeral arrangements which were completely ignored. I know things would have been different if she had formally put her affairs in order. I feel I've failed her by allowing her wishes to be ignored. I would implore everyone to be as open with their families as these participants were, and I would like to congratulate the programme makers for the sensitive way a very emotive subject was dealt with.

A Time to Live Those Brave Brave laughing crying smiling mothers so determined that this would not define their children's futures. Protecting nurturing and quietly crumbling. I wept. Then with each new story wept afresh. Most were people of 48-52 some older, one much younger. The evolution of acceptance was marked in the different age groups.  The gift of life given, what was left .. was grasped and lived to the full. This enormous gift of courage and bravery .. to choose how you love these last precious drops of life among your beloveds was the essence of the new found strength.  To leave the husband,  The freedom to paint To dance  To choose how you wanted to die To accept what pain you could bear so you could feel your body 'talking to you'  To live fully as you'd always wanted to..  to know that the most important thing was to be Loved (the rather heroic Nigel - who always felt he'd been a failure) The gentle pertinent listening questioning  The room to breathe  The space given to allow thoughtful response  The way the only focus was the person, we never saw the interviewer, only heard the softly asked questions. I remain ..  awash with realisation, or is it just .. I don't know.. How to live an honest life?. What is this life if so full of care there is no room to stand and stare ..  and see the actual truth  INFRONT of us.  Life is short  But somehow we only realise this when we are given months to set our houses order.. bucket lists, photo boxes, rescue dogs, oil painting, lots of travel, salsa dancing, long lost parents, scores settled and partners praised for being on the 'journey with them' But the greatest of all these and the only thing that matters is  Love x

Beautifully written, I too watched in admiration of the brave brave souls. I am glad Nigel realised that all that is important is love.

It is so true that love is all that matters and this came through clearly as people expressed what was most important and what they wanted to define them. They clearly felt loved by those closest to them and that was their comfort.

My dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer in February which is incurable however they haven't given us a time frame. This programme makes you realise you are not alone, it was incredibly well done such brave and dignified people. Thank you for bringing something I feel is dating and needed to our screens

Paulette was a wonderful lady, why she was given this awful disease, God only knows! I question is there ever a God!?????

This programme has changed my whole outlook on life and has put everything else into perspective. What incredibly brave and positive people! I am wondering if (and hoping that) most of them are still alive, although that I know that at least one of them has died.

A thought provoking documentary on difficult subject, however it would have been interesting to see how people on limited incomes and socially isolated dealt with the same topic - thank you all for sharing your stories x

I had the same outlook as most of these people when I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in 2 places.fortunately for me im beating it at the moment.ive been in remission for 30 months now.l was taken into hospital with sepsis.they then found I had salmonella and then found I had cancer.I had 4 hours to live (estimated) when they gave me my first shot of chemo.the nurses had to draw straws to see who would give me my first shot as they all expected it to kill me So if anyone feels that there is no hope at all im here to tell you there is always hope

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