Breaking the silence around grief: A review of Timelines the documentary.

How do we talk about death in the time of digital communication? When you die your ideas, images and other such expressions of who you are remain on your social networks. One’s Facebook page becomes a mausoleum for the one’s love after they have gone.

Timelines is a documentary that examines such questions about grief through the memories of the bereaved and the lens of our digital memories. What does it even mean then to remember those whose souls have passed but their memories go viral?

Through interviews with their family and friends, we are introduced to the lives of three girls all of whom passed before turning 21. This is done so through home video footage and the messages they left on their social media platforms. This film follows its creator Tarryn Crossman’s 2 year journey with their legacy, the moments leading to their passing and how they would leave their mark on this world.

We are introduced to Kayleigh Fryer whose life was tragically cut short by a car accident at the age of 19. Her mother having found among her daughters possessions a list of ‘49 things she wanted to do before she died’ and would share it with others on social media. Her list would soon go viral as strangers from all over the world took on the activities and shared their adventures with her family. Kayleigh’s memory would be continued through the actions of others as they would tick items off her bucket list.

Crossman mentions how, “as a filmmaker, I wanted to do something extremely intimate. While at a film festival in Australia, I came across Kayleigh’s story. I immediately knew this was going to be the film and began production on ‘The Kaileigh Fryer Story’. But, watching her family grieve, I soon realized there was a bigger picture here; how has the Internet changed the way we cope with loss?”

We are next introduced to Amber Cornwell who was only 15 years old when she took her life. She had been bullied for years and had even reached out through social media. The film traces her final moments through her Facebook page as well as provide the accounts of her friends and family as they make sense of her suicide.

Jenna Lowe is the focus of the final chapter of this film. She was diagnosed with an extremely rare disease called pulmonary arterial hypertension. The film traces her journey, showing her challenges in securing treatment and going through an organ transplant. Jenna would share her experiences on social media in order to raise awareness of her lung disorder and her Get Me to 21 organ donating campaign would become a viral hit. Yet she would succumb to the disease and the film shares her family’s grieving process as they maintain her viral legacy.

Often the discussion on death is too painful to deal with yet this documentary offers us a personal look into the lives of these three young woman, how they dealt with their own mortality and their journey towards healing. Timelines examines who these girls were and what they meant to those that loved them.

This film could easily be oversimplified as being an exploration of what happens to our digital selves when we pass. I would argue that it is actually much more. It is an exploration of what happens to us those who experience our passing. It is also an exploration of how our everyday acts of social media is more than just communication but the production of our legacy.

Crossman explains how “Many people have commented on how brave I was to tackle this topic, but I can’t believe how brave these families were to go through it all, again, with me. This is a profoundly personal film about grief and I hope it can be a kind of security blanket to anyone having to go through loss”

This movie spans three different contexts but whose heroines are very similar in their gender and race. This documentary is not here to answer what it means to experience loss beyond these categories but rather seeks to show how these stories are very much connected in how they deal with grief through social media. It also shows us how grief experienced within the family can be such an all-encompassing for those affected by it, the effects of which serves as reminder of how grief affects us all no matter who we are.

Timelines is now showing at Maboneng till the 3rd of November. You can book your ticket here or  find out more about the film on their website.


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