Homegoings documentary traces Black funeral traditions

caines | 6/20/2013, 5:30 a.m.

[gallery link="file" columns="2" orderby="title"] Story of Harlem mortician Isaiah Owens to debut at ABFF When it comes to death and funerals, Black people, we have our own way, states Isaiah Owens in a new documentary Homegoings, that airs for the first time on PBS next week and will also be featured at Miamis American Black Film Festival [ABFF] which kicks off on Wednesday, June 19th. Owens, a South Carolina native, is featured in the documentary that chronicles his obsession with funerals that began during his childhood eventually taking him to Harlem, New York where he became one of the citys best-known and most successful funeral directors. It [death and funerals] has worked for us throughout the ages, it has kept us balanced, sane, he further says. And everybody knows that its going to be a sad, good time. As the movie shows, Owens combination of intuitive sympathy along with his knowledge of Black funeral customs, have enabled him to turn sorrow into an affirmation of faith that loved ones are going home. Ironically, Owenss success reveals that this precious and unique tradition within the Black community, first formed in a time of rigid segregation, is slowly disappearing.

First solo project for director Christine Turner

The documentary is the debut feature of Christine Turner, an independent filmmaker based in New York City. Turner, 30, serves as both the director and producer. Since the death of both of her grandmothers, who died within two weeks of one another when she was just 13, she says she has been curious about the different ways that cultures mourn death. Turners experiences might be considered unique as she is the child of a Black father and a Chinese-American mother. This was a one-woman project that was made possible through grants from private foundations and PBS, she said. After seeing an article about Isaiah Owens and because I have only attended one open-casket funeral in my life, I was drawn to his story and the care he takes to beautify the dead. I met him, we talked and I was drawn to him hes very charismatic. The documentary is told through his lens and as he often says, funerals are a sad good time. Thats because in the Black tradition, you have singing, moving testimonials and services that are tailored to the needs of the family. The film is uplifting and a true celebration of life. I think there are several universal messages in it with which all people will be able to identify. Homegoings will be screened on Thursday, June 20 at 11 a.m. and Friday, June 21 at 3:15 p.m. during the ABFF. It is part of an ongoing PBS documentary series entitled, POV. By D. Kevin McNeirkmcneir@miamitimesonline.com