Equal parts touching and fascinating, Hearing Madge from director Andrea Lewis is the rare kind of profile that rises above the crowd of short documentaries clamoring for your attention. Madge focuses on Jason Leach—a musician with an odd side business. To be direct, he presses dead people’s ashes into vinyl records. And, while that initial statement might sound grotesque (and a little bit macabre), through her film, Lewis explores how it’s actually quite poetic and beautiful. After all, what better way to remember a person than through her own voice and/or the music he loved?
I say this a lot, but it bears repeating: the majority of submissions we screen at Short of the Week are documentaries, not narrative content. In effect, a doc has to work extra hard to stand out from the flood of similar sorts of pieces. Lewis’s film manages to excel both in technical craft and emotional punch. The film’s pace is perfect. And, the two subjects, Jason Leach, the purveyor of “And Vinyly” and John Hobson, a man looking to remember his mother after her death via Leach’s unconventional process, provide insights about life and death that are touching and insightful. It’s the perfect marriage of polished filmmaking choices (we loved the framing of the two interview subjects) and excellent on-camera personalities.
In discussing the film, director Andrea Lewis relates:
“My hope is that people see it and think about death in a different way. Not necessarily good or bad, just different. There’s something about legacy too that I find really interesting. What is it that we leave behind that are going to be markers of who we are.”
By the end of the film, you too might be convinced to skip the conventional choice to spread a loved one’s ashes at sea, and, instead, create a vinyl record that can be listened to and appreciated forever. Hearing Madge takes what could have been a maudlin subject (the death of a loved one) and turns it into a special and inspiring act of creation. For us—a team of curators who are inundated with mediocre short documentaries—that’s music to our ears.
Lewis is currently working on another documentary which focuses a book written by a mentally ill woman in 1997 about her love affair with one of the most famous rockstars of the century. 20 years later the book has been unearthed and nobody’s quite sure if in fact she was lying or telling the truth. We’re excited to check it out when it’s complete!