Australian Screen

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Losing Layla (2001)

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clip Grief is uncharted territory education content clip 3

Original classification rating: PG. This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

Vanessa and Michael discuss the complexities of the grief they felt over the death of their baby daughter, Layla.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows Vanessa Gorman and her partner, Michael, walking along a street and inside a bank before cutting to Vanessa describing her grief after the death of their newborn baby, Layla. Vanessa describes the grief as a roller-coaster in a piece to camera that is followed by footage of a roller-coaster. Vanessa is then shown in the supermarket looking at other women’s children. Vanessa and Michael walk on the beach together, with the sound of gulls and waves in the background. Michael then says that he felt his own emotions were overlooked when Layla died.

Educational value points

  • Film techniques are used here to describe some of the stages of grieving. The clip explores Vanessa’s pain as she tries to get on with everyday life. The camera catches looks that Vanessa gives other women’s children, which reveal her mixed emotions. The roller-coaster footage mirrors the ups and downs of the grieving process and long high-pitched discordant sounds create a sense of disorientation. Voice-overs are effectively paired with poignant shots of the couple among strangers in the street or walking alone on the beach.
  • Michael talks of his grief being overlooked after the death of his newborn daughter. The father does not carry or have the same relationship with an unborn child as the mother, yet he can still suffer profound grief at a miscarriage, stillbirth or loss of a newborn. He may mourn the loss of his own role as a father, the potential of the child, and the opportunity to love and know his offspring.
  • The notion that grief is a private and personal experience is challenged in Losing Layla. The documentary is a painfully explicit depiction of grief that is likely to make some viewers feel uncomfortable, and others liberated. The public reaction to the film was an outpouring of empathy, particularly from those who had suffered similar losses, yet for others, including some reviewers, the film was seen as too raw, albeit courageous in its exposure of the subject.
  • The footage demonstrates that mini digital cameras can be used to make intimate and immediate documentaries. The mini digital camera is lightweight and, unlike the camera crew required for more traditional filming, is unobtrusive and is often used to create video diaries such as this one. Cathy Henkel, director of The Man Who Stole My Mother’s Face and a friend of Vanessa Gorman, is responsible for the footage here.
  • Losing Layla exemplifies the use of modern media as a cathartic tool. Vanessa says she made the film as a way of coming to terms with Layla’s death. She sees the public analysis of her grief as a way to confront it and move on. She also has a website and blog in which she publicly explores her emotions. These media are relatively recent in their availability and their use is evolving, as are notions of where boundaries between private and public life should be drawn.
  • The clip showcases the camerawork of filmmaker Vanessa Gorman and camera operator Cathy Henkel. Gorman has subsequently worked on the well-regarded documentary series Australian Story and has written and directed other documentaries. Henkel has been a writer, director and producer of documentaries since 1988, also working as a cinematographer. In 1992, she formed Hatchling Productions to create documentaries, educational videos and short films. Her 2003 documentary The Man Who Stole My Mother’s Face won a number of accolades and awards.

This clip starts approximately 46 minutes into the documentary.

Vanessa and Michael hold each other as they walk down the busy street.
Vanessa Gorman There’s this part of grief where you just feel so … you’re looking normal — you go out into the world and you’re looking normal, but you just feel so isolated. You know, in the past people used to wear black and that was so everybody would know that they’re in mourning and there’s that feeling that you’re in mourning but no-one knows that you’re in mourning, no-one knows that you have this grief. You walk along the street, you know, and you walk into the bank and you walk into shops and it’s like inside you’re sort of screaming, you know, it’s like inside you’re kind of — you want to say, you know, ‘this has happened to me. I’m really wounded.’ You know, but you know you just look normal to other people and you’re invisible. It’s like your grief is invisible.

We see Vanessa and Michael standing in line at the shops.
Vanessa Hi. Just buying those.

Vanessa is being interviewed.
Vanessa Grief really does feel like that rollercoaster of — of sadness, anger, rage, love, tears, pain, you know, it’s kind of everything.

We see footage of a rollercoaster with Vanessa and Michael on it.

Vanessa You’re going up and you’re going down and you know, it’s not all bad. People came to me with so much love and then there was pain again and then there was you know, anger and jealousy and rage and all those sort of things. I guess it’s the unacceptable sides of grief that are hard to — hard to feel them arise in yourself and hard to accept them, and I had those feelings of seeing — of seeing babies in the street or seeing pregnant women and wanting their babies to die, you know, wanting their babies to die so that they’d know what it felt. It’s horrible to feel that. If people are insensitive or don’t acknowledge it, all this anger rises up and that’s part of grief too. I think grief is one of those very unchartered territories when it happens to you and it’s very hard to accept all the really dark places that it is.

Vanessa and Michael are walking along the beach together side by side.

Michael Gorman I feel like often my feelings were overlooked because they weren’t as large as yours and they were more complicated than yours. I’d had a more complicated journey. It wasn’t longing, longing, longing, loss you know. You know, it was sort of ambivalent shock, loss, you know, shame. I don’t know. It was a combination — you know, it was too much to try and digest and um — I just noticed that people didn’t really know how to contact me and I think some of that probably had me feel that there was something wrong with what I felt.

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australianscreen is produced by the National Film and Sound Archive. By using the website you agree to comply with the terms and conditions described elsewhere on this site. The NFSA may amend the 'Conditions of Use’ from time to time without notice.

All materials on the site, including but not limited to text, video clips, audio clips, designs, logos, illustrations and still images, are protected by the Copyright Laws of Australia and international conventions.

When you access australianscreen you agree that:

  • You may retrieve materials for information only.
  • You may download materials for your personal use or for non-commercial educational purposes, but you must not publish them elsewhere or redistribute clips in any way.
  • You may embed the clip for non-commercial educational purposes including for use on a school intranet site or a school resource catalogue.
  • The National Film and Sound Archive’s permission must be sought to amend any information in the materials, unless otherwise stated in notices throughout the Site.

All other rights reserved.

ANY UNAUTHORISED USE OF MATERIAL ON THIS SITE MAY RESULT IN CIVIL AND CRIMINAL LIABILITY.

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