917-674-6708 beth@fivespotfilms.com


This documentary opens a window onto a compelling new trend in America's treatment of death: the home funeral. Prior to the 20th century, caring for the dead in our country fell to family and friends. The rise of the more institutional, 'sanitized' funeral has over time served to alienate Americans from one of the most basic facts of life. Home funeral advocates believe that close contact with the body, even for children, has been shown to help with the grieving process. Filmed across the country, A FAMILY UNDERTAKING intimately follows several diverse families as they forego a typical mortuary funeral and care for their loved ones at home. The camera also ventures behind closed doors into the world of the American funeral industry, to shed light on some of the tricks of the trade.

Keith Carr visits a pioneer grave out on the prairie
near his home in South Dakota.
Photo by Andrew Kist © 2002.
A model promotes caskets at the International
Cemetery and Funeral Association Convention
in Orlando, Florida.
Photo by Andrew Kist © 2002.

Produced and Directed by Elizabeth Westrate,
A FAMILY UNDERTAKING explores the range of complex psychological, cultural, legal and financial issues that surround the home funeral movement. The film challenges viewers in the process to reexamine their own attitude toward life's only inevitability: death.

The film was completed in Spring 2003, and premiered at the American Film Institute's Silverdocs Documentary Film Festival. It was broadcast on the acclaimed PBS series P.O.V. in 2004 2004 and was adapted for the Public Radio International show, The Next Big Thing. Excerpts from A FAMILY UNDERTAKING were recently featured in the book In Passing: A Book About Death. Videos and stills from the film were exhibited at The San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery.

A FAMILY UNDERTAKING was produced with funds from the Independent Television Service (ITVS), which receives its funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Lucius and Eva Eastman Fund. Distribution is supported by the New York State Council on the Arts. Fiscal Sponsor: Women Make Movies.

"A loving testimonial to life's last moments...a truly transformative viewing experience."
— Mill Valley Film Festival

"A moving and perhaps surprisingly cheerful film, A FAMILY UNDERTAKING challenges viewers to reexamine their own attitudes, not just toward death, but also toward life."
American Film Institute/Silverdocs

Read all reviews of the film

Bernard Carr poses with his own casket, which was built for him by his family. Prairie City, South Dakota.
Photo by Andrew Kist © 2002.