Hospice of Waterloo Region has partnered with the Grand River Film Festival to launch a new short film contest that calls on filmmakers and storytellers in Waterloo Region to tell stories that focus on death as a part of living.

You Only Die Once: #YODOContest encourages local filmmakers to use their artistic expression to create films of 3-5 minutes in length that explore and educate others about death, dying and grief in a personally unique way that has a positive influence on the community.

We recently had an online “Ask Me Anything” event to answer questions about the contest – from film proposal and process, to the finished product. It featured:


  • Sheli O’Connor, Director of Community Engagement and Partnerships for HWR (AMA Moderator)
  • Michael R. Clark, Chair of Programming for GRFF
  • Heather Steinmann, Event Coordinator for HWR

Michael — Can you talk a bit about the partnership between GRFF and Hospice of Waterloo Region?

The importance is about igniting a conversation. GRFF’s mandate is to bring interesting and unique independent films into the Region of Waterloo — locally-made films, Canadian-made films, or internationally-made films. But those films all have a message that are important and relevant to the Region of Waterloo. And we seek out partnerships as we did with Hospice for conversations that should be had in the community, and for whatever reason just need that extra nudge.

When this partnership came up, we thought this is the perfect match — where here is a conversation on the topic of death and dying that needs a little elevation. If we can find films — and in this instance if we can help generate films that are on that topic and inspire that conversation that move forward and move to the forefront of our community – then all the power to us. So we are proud to help push that conversation forward.

Heather — Tell us about the contest and how it fits with HWR’s mission and values

So overall, Hospice aims to help people live well until they die. So with this, HWR believes that no person should experience the end of life journey on their own. HWR strives to do this to encourage our community to nurture and comfort each other during death and bereavement. This is important because death isn’t talked about and is often viewed as scary or uncomfortable.

So our goal for this contest and this project is to get our community talking about and accepting the natural processes of death, and something that can be talked about openly. We really want to have this project engage the younger generation because death happens to all of us, and we don’t know when. Connecting this topic of death, dying and bereavement with the arts and film helps people to draw on their personal experiences with it. And we found in the past that personal connection helps to really engage the audience in something that is real and it makes it unique to the filmmaker.

Sheli: We have found — especially since I started at Hospice — that there is really a stigma attached to this conversation and what happens as a result of that stigma is that people don’t reach out for the resources and support that is available to them, or they don’t feel comfortable giving that support. So the whole idea of the conversation is to make people comfortable with the whole spectrum of life, and to help people live well until they die.

Heather — Can you talk about the process and proposal?

The proposal we are aiming for is just a short description of the story of what your short film wants to be, and how it’s going to approach the topic of death, dying and grief in a way that helps people feel comfortable talking about it. For example — The Fault in Our Stars, Two Weeks, P.S. I Love You, The Farewell — they are all great examples of ways that death is talked about in a natural and positive way. We really think that movies that have a real-life story incorporated is a really great area to start off if you’re trying to think of an idea or inspiration.

Sheli: The whole proposal piece is not meant to be intimidating or to make people think their work is going to be critiqued at the outset, or that there are very strict guidelines. We really just want people to tell their story, and to ensure that story will benefit being seen by those in the community and to engage that conversation. People realize they do have stories, especially around death, dying and grief – we are all touched by it some way in our lives.

Michael — What have you seen in short-film competitions that you would encourage people to think about for their own video?

I think the reason you see such a long list of movies that are on the subject is because death and dying is something that affects all of us, and often times with films like The Farewell or The Parting Glass, which we screened a few years ago, they are often based on the filmmakers’ real experiences. We are by no means saying limit yourself to autobiographical stories, but the power of short films is their length. Distilling a story or a message into a concentrated punch that really grabs the audience is the power. You’re not spreading your story over the course of two hours; you’re spreading it out over the course of five minutes, so you can be a lot more surgical in the way you are telling your story. You can really cut out all of the things that make a 1.5-hour long movie and get to the point. And having that in such a concentrated area really gets the audience thinking about their own feelings of death and dying, and that’s the power of short film — to really put the magnifying glass to the audience.

Heather — Can you walk people through the specifics of the stages of the contest?

We are just looking for an overall general idea that you are looking to take your short film. They are due Sept. 15th.

Next will be feedback from judges. We are hoping to have those completed by mid-October and to get back to everyone who submitted so they can get going on the filmmaking process.

So between October and April, it’s the creative process of filmmaking. And throughout that whole time, Hospice and GRFF will be available for questions along the way. And Hospice wants to keep in touch with filmmakers and do short interviews throughout the process to have you elaborate on your topic and idea, and to talk about being a filmmaker. We hope to use the videos on our website and social media to keep the community updated on the process.

The last step is the submission process, which is on March 15th. And then the winners – two top winners will be chosen as a Hospice event in April and screened at the festival in May.

Michael — Can you talk about the Film Festival and how the films will be shown?

GRFF happens the first full week in May – which next year will be May 5th to 8th. We have committed in our partnership with Hospice to select a film on the topic of death and dying. And the winning short films will be screened before that feature film, and potentially could be screened at another event at the festival. There is a short films program, and we like to fill that with as much local content as possible. So while the winners will definitely be screened at the feature film – all submissions could be considered for the short film program that happens at another point during the festival.

On top of that, because you are a local filmmaker, we are always interested in having the local filmmakers come out to the screening. You will be provided with a pass to that evening’s screening. And we do programming, often times talking with the filmmakers. So we would like to have the winners up on the stage and talking about what went into the filmmaking process. And also this year we’re going to launch a podcast for GRFF, and we anticipate having those winning filmmakers on the podcast talking about their process and the films.

We find that the community, as much as they love movies, they love it even more when there are local filmmakers involved. And they can go to a film and say – this is someone who’s from where I’m from and they did this thing and now it’s up on a big screen and a theatre of people are going to be able to watch it.


Watch the AMA Video

Have Questions?

Check out our FAQs, or contact Sheli O’Connor, Director of Community Engagement and Partnerships at HWR: sheli@hospicewaterloo.ca.

We will also host another “Ask Me Anything” online event in September. Please watch our Facebook Page for details.

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