Is there a particular documentary film or filmmaker that had a major influence on your career?
What motivated you to make this film?
For as long as I can remember, my grandmother, Cara Price, dyed her hair fire engine red. She never left the house without bright red lipstick to match. Cara wore floral print blouses and costume jewelry, her nails were long and often ornately decorated with mini rhine stones. Well into her eighties, she could still be seen teetering down her driveway in Los Angeles in a pair of heels. Her style was ostentatious, loud, and unapologetic. When Cara passed away at the age of ninety-two, dementia had taken over the mind of the woman I knew, and she was barely recognizable—her hair was white, her nails nude, and her lips pale.
Shortly after my grandmother’s passing, I read a small newspaper article in La Presse about a woman named Kathleen Mahony, who volunteered doing hair and makeup for the terminally ill in palliative care at Notre-Dame Hospital in Montreal. Learning about Kathleen’s work transformed my understanding of end-of-life care. I was finally able to process some of what I felt at the end of my grandmother’s life. My family and I were so absorbed by our grief and our desire to mitigate her suffering that we neglected to help her maintain the outward-facing identity that she had cultivated her whole life. Why did we assume this was any less important to her because she was dying? I’m sure now that something as simple as painting her nails or doing her hair would have made a difference to her. I reached out to Kathleen immediately after reading the article and we embarked on the journey to make this documentary together.
Kathleen’s services are invaluable but remain far from universal. We avoid difficult discussions around death and dying—taboos still dominate our relationship to the end of life. My hope is that this film will invite audiences to ponder what it means to die with dignity and perhaps think a little differently about our loved ones’ needs as they approach the end of their own stories.
Please tell us what camera(s) you shot with primarily – and any other special equipment that you used and why you used it.
I shot with the Sony A7S II because I had a very limited budget and because I wanted our set up to be as small, light, mobile, and unobtrusive as possible.
Please tell us about any special styles or techniques that you used during the production of your film to help tell your story.
The Hairdresser is told in a cinema verité style with VO. My approach to shooting thisfilm was to be as observational as possible in the sensitive environment of paliative care. I didn’t allow myself or my DP, Jacky, to ask for action to be repeated, slowed down or altered for us in any way. Because Kathleen’s work is intimate and because the comfort of the patient is her top priority, she must move quickly and efficiently. We gave ourselves the constraint of following her movement and the interaction between Kathleen and Madame Lalonde without interfering or making any specific requests. All VO was recorded separately in Kathleen’s home without the presence of the camera because I didn’t want to give myself the option of including talking heads in the film.
How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be?
I intended to shoot with several patients over several months and to incorporate the seasons throughout the film as a nod to the cycle of life and death. But, of course, the universe had other plans. I received access through the hospital and the palliative care foundation that runs to unit to make this film in 2016. Shortly afterwards, however, the hospital administration changed and the palliative care unit was moved to another wing, both of which caused significant delays to the production. First, I had to work to re-secure my access and build relationships with the new administration and then I needed to wait until the palliative care unit had moved and settled into their new location. I also needed to work around the fact that Kathleen winters in Florida and is gone for five months out of the year. All in all it took four years before I was able to shoot with Kathleen at the hospital. During that time, however, I visited Kathleen regularly at her house and brought my audio equipment with me. We spent hours talking casually in her loving room and these conversations became her voice over in the film.
My first shoot was in the fall of 2019. I had an agreement with the hospital that I would be allowed to shoot four days at the hospital. I shot two days in the fall and had plans to edit over the winter while Kathleen was away and shoot my last two days in the spring. But then the pandemic hit and it became very clear that with a film that took place in a hospital with an 83 year old protagonist, I wasn’t going to be able to shoot again anytime soon. I decided to cut the film with what I had. Instead of several patients and several days, I had one patient over two days but it was the better film. Limiting the film to one interaction between Kathleen and Madame Lalonde created a sense of intimacy that might not have been achieved with several patients. It also allowed for a slow and contemplative pace in the editing. There was no ‘next thing’ to push forward to. my editor, Pauline, and I decided to take as much time as the film required in that one room and let the significance of their interaction speak for itself.
As is often the case in documentary, at least in my experience, the core intention behind the film was the same from beginning to end. The visual material that I ended up having at my disposal to convey that intention changed because I was at the mercy of real life and events outside of my control. But I set out to make a film about dignity at the end of life, represented through the very simple and meaningful act of washing a person’s hair, touching their skin and showing them kindness—and that never changed.
Please describe the most rewarding experience you had while making this film.
The most rewarding experience I had while making this film, came at the end of the process before the world premiere at Hot Docs. I hadn’t spoken with Madame Lalonde’s family or met them previously and Madame Lalonde didn’t mention to them that she participated in the documentary. They had no idea the film had been made and that she was in it. The idea that the film would be released publicly without them seeing it first was unacceptable to me. But I had no way of contacting them directly since the palliative care foundation doesn’t keep electronic records of next of kin after a patient has died and Madame Lalonde’s release form only included her own personal information. I did some sleuthing on the internet and eventually discovered that Madame Lalonde’s son is a public figure in Quebec. I contacted him on social media and was then able to reach out to his family and share the film with them before it was released. They were incredibly touched and supportive of the film. They felt it represented their mother’s spirit and deserved to be out in the world, which, as a documentary filmmaker is the greatest reward.
What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?
Making films like these takes so much perseverance. I had set back after set back while making this film. The Hairdresser is the shortest film I’ve made but it took me the longest! I’m not sure I’m in a position to give advice, but if pressed I would just say, don’t give up. You thought this film deserved to be made for a reason, trust in that and don’t give up until it’s made. Oh, and if you can, work with a producer. It’s a lot to carry this kind of project all on your own.
What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?
Some people fear the edit, because that’s where you’re confronted by all of your mistakes, but I love it. I love discovering the film for what it wants to be once I have the audio and visual elements and am free to play with them. The more films I make, the more gentle I am with myself in the cutting room. I used to consider it a real failing if I got into the edit and didn’t have every single piece of material necessary to finish the film. I was really hard on myself for not knowing better, planning better, being a better director. But I’ve learned to accept filmmaking as a process from beginning to end. And that means I will continue to discover my film—it’s language, its meaning, and its needs—in the edit. Of course I will always try and come up with the best production plan possible so I am as prepared as I can possibly be for the editing process, but I know now that my job is to keep listening to the process, that the process will make its own demands and sometimes those demands can’t be anticipated because they come from the act of putting images and sound together in the edit! I love the edit because it’s where all of the versions of your film come together—the film you wanted to make in the beginning, the film you captured in images and sound in production, and the film as it wants to be in the edit.
What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why?
I have a canvas fanny pack with several little pockets that I use to hold extra batteries, SD cards, coins for tripod plates, lens caps, etc.. I keep everything in a different pocket so they don’t clink around in there and show up in the audio. I hate needing to run to a case or bag for batteries or new cards while in the middle of a shoot. Having backups right on me is way more convenient. I also have two tiny plastic boxes with snap lids for SD cards labeled ‘Empty’ and ‘Full’. This way I keep track of my cards and eliminate any unnecessary mistakes.
Please share a personal story about your experience making this film.
I made this film for my grandmother. For me, it was a way of acknowledging what I could have done for her but didn’t think to do. It was the closest thing to an apology I could offer her. My grandmother was a social worker in Los Angeles. She spent her whole life trying to help other people. Since her death and over the four years it took me to make this film, Kathleen and I grew close. We still speak regularly. My grandmother and Kathleen are very different people but they share certain similarities as strong, outspoken women who know the value of upholding human dignity and work to leave the world better than they found it. I’m grateful for their example. I’m inspired by their work. And my story is forever changed because of their influence.
What do you want audiences to take away from your film?
I want audiences to consider what it really means to die with dignity and take that knowledge into their personal experiences with their loved ones. I hope the film sparks conversations, lifting the thick shroud of taboos that surround death and dying in our society. I hope audiences will familiarize themselves with palliative care, which continues to be more prevalent in Europe than North America. I hope that the next time an audience member is faced with the imminent death of a loved one, they won’t be afraid to touch their hands, paint their nails, wash their hair, help them put on lipstick. It’s not about beauty, it’s not about the transformation. It’s about being allowed to be ourselves in our entirety right up to our very last breath.
Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion:
Shooting in sensitive environments, establishing trust, end of life care / palliative care vs health care, the short form
What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?
There are many ways for people to get involved! You can attend fundraising events for palliative care foundations and if you have the means you can make a financial contribution; you can also volunteer in palliative care or hospice care and make the donation of your time and presence. You don’t need to be a hairdresser! The palliative care unit at Notre-Dame Hospital has a pianist who comes in one a week to play piano for everyone on the floor, massage therapists can give massages to patients, you can even volunteer to come read a book by someone’s bedside, if you are a manicurist you can volunteer to do someone’s nails, or simply volunteer to be there and hold someone’s hand so they don’t pass away alone.
Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.):
https://www.ukfilmreview.co.uk/post/the-hairdresser-short-documentary-review, https://www.videoblogg.com/Video/Detail/14391, https://thegarnettereport.com/film/interview-lorraine-price-director-short-film-hairdresser/, https://montreal.ctvnews.ca/montreal-filmmaker-s-documentary-explores-end-of-life-care-with-style-1.5504412, https://austinb.media/afi-docs-2021-the-hairdresser-interview/, https://www.cbc.ca/listen/live-radio/1-383-lets-go/clip/15852228-the-hairdresser, https://www.viddy-well.com/articles/lorraine-price-interview-the-hairdresser, https://www.filmandtvnow.com/interview-special-lorraine-price-the-hairdresser/
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