Photo: Sue Bourne

With boxes of vitamins and supplements and a lot of chocolate biscuits, director Sue Bourne and her film crew set off in a van around the country to film A Time To Live. The latest documentary from the award-winning film maker, is a series of interviews with people diagnosed with a terminal illness. After the screening last week, Bourne was in conversation –  and when asked why she’d picked this theme, stated, ‘I’m not maudlin, I’m not interested in death, in particular. We began filming last year when lots of famous people died – David Bowie, Alan Rickman – and so I thought it’s time. Also I’ve had cancer myself, I’ve had a brush with mortality and you don’t know what’s around the corner. It’s important to make the most of your time. Squeeze the pips out of life’

A Time to Live is trademark Sue Bourne. The director of Fabulous Fashionistas and The Age of Loneliness has a knack for brutal honesty and an ability to encourage her subjects to open up and disclose things in interviews that they probably wouldn’t say in real life. I seriously wish I had Bourne’s interview skills. Obviously, given the subject matter, A Time to Live is a tearjerker but because the emphasis of the film is ‘living not dying’ and the people filmed have changed their lives, it’s uplifting, too. From Lisa, 50, who has breast cancer and would rather ‘spend time laughing and having a good time admiring my wonderful breasts that don’t move when I take my bra off,’ to 30-year-old Fi who says, ‘I used to worry about what people thought of me and now I don’t give a fuck.’ Then there’s Nigel (in the photograph below) who laughs at himself and declares, ‘People phone and there’s a pause and you can tell their thinking “he’s still alive!” You get sympathy fatigue setting in.’ And Annabel, 54 who emboldened by her diagnosis made a bucket list including travelling the world, learning to paint and, first things first, leaving her husband.

An at the end of the film, the final credits don’t disclose which of the 12 interviewees is still living, ‘I made the choice not to tell who was still alive or dead,’ Bourne admits, ‘If we’d said that at the end, then that’s all you would remember. I wanted their stories to live on.’  And they do, they will.

A Time To Live is on BBC2, Weds 17 May 2017 at 9pm. In addition to the BBC documentary, there’s a link up with The Open University where nine of the people filmed give longer interviews. There’s a clip of the programme HERE. Don’t miss it.

18 thoughts on “A Time to Live: A new film from Sue Bourne

  1. Oh dear, worthy subject but think I will give it a miss….since retirement from a difficult, draining job I only do ‘fluffy’; I’m guessing this isn’t!

  2. Thank you for sharing this, Alyson! Hopefully I’ll be able to find it online after it airs as I would very much like to watch it. I have an incurable cancer. At this point, treatment is going well and no one has mentioned the word terminal yet, but I know that I could be staring that in the face at any time. But then, who of us couldn’t? Really, we’re all in the process of dying. Some of us might get there faster, but in the meantime, I’m all about living and “squeezing the pips out of life!”

  3. Wow—I bet this really touches on a nerve, Alyson! Because really—every day we all are that much close to dying than we were yesterday!!
    But really…maybe it’s not a bad thing! Maybe it’s a wake up call and makes us appreciate what we have more, or what we could have more. I know seeing my best friend pass at age 34 did it for me. That’s why I retired from dentistry before I turned 50 and started my blog!! Life is too short!!

  4. I’m just coming up to the first anniversary of my mother’s passing from advanced ovarian cancer – which she fought valiantly for 2.5 years. It’s all too raw for me to want to watch the movie.

    However, I do know that even with all that entailed in watching my mother die, I still need to be reminded to ‘squeeze the pips out of life’… and just can’t understand why I don’t have that message TOP OF MIND daily! It is so important.

    So i highly recommend that everyone remember to make the most of life now… there is too little left if/when you find you have a terminal illness. And one never knows what is around the corner (yes even a wayward bus!).

    Sounds like a very important movie to watch and take in.

  5. 7 years ago at 53 I was diagnosed with MS so I booked a river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest & then following on that another 5 weeks in Italy. Who knows what my future holds but I’m certainly not going to sit home & cry. I donned my best clothes , put on my favourite lipstick & a beautiful scarf & I was off! Before the diagnosis we had just started to hit the road & since then I’ve started traveling even more extensively & am still doing so. We are off to Corfu & France in a few months . Life is to be lived regardless & always looking as good as you possibly can !!!

  6. Sounds like a good programme. An extension of the good question “if you only had (length of time) to live what would you do? A question that focuses your true aims.

  7. She is such a brilliant filmmaker. I will record it and wait for the right moment as it will be spectacularly good but the anniversary week of three family deaths probably isn’t the moment to watch it! Particularly poignant as they were people who didn’t really live life to the full, they were mostly too scared or grumpy to do new things.

  8. Thanks for this, Alyson. Like Elaine, I just love that phrase, ‘squeezing the pips out of life’! Oh yes. And I will watch it. I’m waiting for a report from the Mole Clinic where I was told I had a dodgy mole – so, this is very very relevant. Thanks again x

  9. Dear Alyson, thank you for drawing my attention to this programme about living – not dying. I found the preview video mesmerising and watched it twice; after which I found that a bit of reflection and reprioritising was in order. From their laser-focused clarity about living life, I was able to push a worrying but ultimately unimportant work issue to the margins. It acted like a reset button at just the right moment. How generous of those people to participate in the documentary.

  10. Thank you Alyson for bringing this to my attention, I have recently taken to not watching television for the sake of it like I use to and only switch it on when something is of interest. I think that maybe everyone should watch this, Life really is about living and I am sure that this programme will prove that sometimes a terminal diagnosis can suddenly allow you the freedom to ‘just live’ no matter how long or short that may be.

  11. Is there a way to find out if the film will be shown in the U.S.? Or if it will be available later on Netflix or some such? I would hate to miss out on what sounds like a powerful positive documentary.

  12. Thanks, Alyson. I will look at the previews and watch for the film locally.

    Truth is that you, me, we are all terminal. It’s hard to believe that when you’re young, busy-busy-busy, or surrounded by people who aren’t dead or dying yet. 😉 But then parents die, hubby gets cancer, they ask you to come back and re-do the mammogram, and you realize that maybe, just maybe, you also won’t get out of here alive.

    You won’t. So fuck it all — in the very best possible way(s), of course. 🙂

    Now, if I could just find out what a pip is ….

  13. I haven’t seen the film, so my comments might not be in order, but not everyone who has a terminal illness decides to, or even can, squeeze every last bit out of life. Some of them don’t have the time or the ability. Some of them, regardless of the support by hospice, friends, and family, spend their final days scared and angry—scared of what’s to come, angry at their bodies for betraying them. They do not spend their final days on Earth surrounded by love and laughter, gathering together friends and family, happily skipping down memory lane, or checking off bucket list entries. They spend them frantically tying up loose ends, making calls to as many people as possible, talking to brokers and banks, worrying about those they leave behind. For those of us who are the shepherds during this final step in life’s journey, the process is very often anything but life affirming, but instead exhausting and gut-wrenchingly sad.

  14. I very much enjoyed Fabulous Fashionistas, which I realize is a more joyful film to watch, but we are all going to face death at some point and you don’t know how you will react or behave until you’re there. Some people will be able to “squeeze all the pips” out of the time they have left, and others will not be able to get past the anger and despair. I love hearing other people’s stories so I will be looking for this one to be available in Canada at some point.

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