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Still Loved film aims to break silence around stillbirth

21 March 2016

Over the past four years, Debbie Howard of Big Buddha Films has been making a documentary, Still Loved: the first ever feature length documentary to show how families survive baby loss.

With around 17 families losing a baby to stillbirth every day in the UK, and one in four pregnancies ending in a loss, the UK has a poor mortality record compared to other high income countries. Yet, says Debbie, "there is so much silence around this, it’s still very much a taboo". Debbie decided it was time to break the silence with Still Loved, a compelling and beautifully made documentary. She tells us about the process. 

A few years ago I made a short film called Peekaboo starring Lesley Sharp and Shaun Dooley which looked at stillbirth and how one couple deal with their loss. During the making of that film I came to understand a great deal about losing a baby, as I got to know many families when I was developing the script. When I had finished the film, I knew I wanted to make a feature length documentary telling families' own stories, which were so much more powerful than anything I could write. So the idea for Still Loved began.  

I worked closely with seven families over a period of three years. It was incredibly difficult at the beginning; often our crew would be crying as we filmed. It took a while to learn how to deal with the heartbreak (Debbie is pictured, right, on set). 

Many families lost friends when their babies died

Each family’s story is very different. I learned so many things from our participants. The first was that each person has to find their own unique way to deal with grief. It’s so important to acknowledge loss, especially one that’s very difficult, like the death of a baby.

Many families told me how they lost friends when their babies died. Some of their friends never called them again. This is because people didn’t know what to say. People are scared to mention the baby to the bereaved person because they think they will remind them that they died. But the parents have never forgotten that they died. Mentioning them acknowledges that they lived. So this film has made me braver. I’m not afraid to talk about death and loss now. It taught me about love, courage and hope. I understand that though you may never ‘get over it’ or ‘move on’, you learn to find new ways of living and being happy again. The families in our film are a real inspiration, just incredible people.

Dads are often forgotten

The fathers in Still Loved are very important. Dads are often forgotten about when a baby dies. They are expected to be the strong ones and just get on with it. They are often ignored. People would ask them how their partners were, but they didn’t often ask how they were. They were also expected to be back at work as if nothing has happened, sometimes just a few days after they had buried their child. We also worked with grandparents, siblings and extended family. Because we filmed over three years, we go on a real journey with the families, from shortly after their loss, through their recovery. Many of them go on to do incredible things to reach out and help other parents. I am in awe of them, how amazing and generous they are. 

Making Still Loved has been a challenge from start to finish. Raising money was so difficult, because it’s not a commercial film. We did a lot of crowdfunding. Many hundreds of people donated to enable us to shoot and complete the film. Our credits are very long – we wanted to thank our sponsors and include the names of hundreds of their babies so that we could honour them all. 

Still Loved is finished to a very high standard for cinemas and television. We had a fantastic post-production team, including BAFTA winning editor Joby Gee, who has done a superb job. 

Still Loved needs your support

We’ve had a couple of private preview screenings and had an overwhelmingly positive response from our audience. But despite this, we are struggling still to get the film out there. We have run out of money at this point and getting Still Loved to film festivals and cinemas is very costly. We are also trying to sell it to a TV broadcaster, and although we are getting a lot of interest and a great response, we are still waiting for a ‘yes’. It’s a film people are worried about programing because they just can’t handle the subject matter. For me, that is all the more reason for it to get out there, as attitudes will never change unless people see the film and start to understand what happens to a family when their baby dies and how they can support them.  

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