Screening at the DOC NYC Virtual Film Festival, “Beautiful Something Left Behind” is a heartening documentary following the children of the Good Grief Community in New Jersey who have lost a parent or loved one.
The film won a Grand Jury Prize Award from the SXSW Feature Documentary Competition this year. This adds another award-winning documentary to director Katrine Philp’s resume. Philp is a graduate of the Film Production Design program at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. Some of her past works include Dance for Me (selected for POV on PBS and nominated for the Outstanding Arts and Culture Programming Emmy Award), Home Sweet Home (Robert Prize from the Danish Academy Awards), and False Confessions (Politiken Audience Award at CPH: DOX).
Beautiful Something Left Behind is the third collaboration between Philp and Good Company Pictures, a Denmark-based documentary production company. Katrine A. Sahlstrøm is the producer to round out this female-led filmmaking team.
The documentary focuses on the children dealing with loss in their life while utilizing a paired down documentary approach. Philp limits background music provides only a few interviews and forgoes graphics with statistics or facts. Philp’s documentary shies away from a direct message and allows us to be present with the subjects. We see grief and its complexities in its purest form: through the eyes of children. Then, we experience their heartbreaks as they interact with other grieving children and remember those they lost. As the kids ponder questions about death and the afterlife, we too contemplate those questions and experience the frustration with not having all the answers.
Philp also highlights the unexpected moments of joy and growth. We see the children play at the Good Grief center, smile with their caretakers, and just be a kid. These moments move slowly through time and blend into the next, occasionally with the assistance of calming piano music. Just as the leaders at Good Grief comfort the children, Philp allows us to take on the film’s weight slowly, and without judgment. Subtly, she presents the message that grief, though at times unfathomable, can be carried with patience and compassion.
As an adult, I learned a little something about grief, and ultimately about life, from these kids. There were times when I just wanted to give the kids a big hug. Some moments I was at a loss for words. Other times, I was impressed by the children’s answers to life’s toughest questions.
Beautiful Something Left Behind is not a documentary that will spring you into action. It’s a window into the lives of young children who experience loss way earlier than anyone ever should. It’s an opportunity for us to reflect on our own childhood, our losses, and our grief.
Beautiful Something Left Behind is available to stream from November 11-19 as part of the DOC NYC virtual film festival.