Sunday 20 October 2019

The Dublin woman who... collects people's memories

Following the death of her grandmother from Alzheimer's, Darcie Healy (31) from Dublin was inspired to set up her business with mum Michele (60) and capture life stories for future generations

Recollection: Michele and her daughter Darcie commit people’s memories to film. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Recollection: Michele and her daughter Darcie commit people’s memories to film. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Darcie Healy

My mum, Michele, came up with the idea of filming an interview with my grandmother Patricia when she was 91. She'd had Alzheimer's for 11 years at that stage. We went into the nursing home with our camera and we had questions and a poem she used to love to recite. We thought we'd get it all on camera, but on that day she was completely non-responsive. We were devastated.

When she passed away, I made a collage of photos and videos on my phone. It was for my mum really - she loved it and she shared it with everyone in our family. It became a focal point for everyone.

From there, people got in touch and asked me could I do something similar for their mum or their aunt. It all started with extended family and friends, and it was my mum who gave me the push to commit to it as a business.

Friends and family started asking us to go in and film elderly relatives talking about everything from their childhood to their hopes and dreams. They also talked about their hobbies, such as cooking or golf or reading. We filmed them on their daily walks or at home pottering about.

We were getting such incredible feedback that we thought we might as well offer this as a service to others who would love to get family history and footage of their own loved ones on camera.

I had trained in communications, filming and editing, and for years I worked in the charity sector filming the people the organisation helped.

My mum said why not combine our skills - me filming with her doing the interviews. Mum and I are very close. She's my best friend and I adore her. Few people would go into business with their mother but I jumped at the chance.

This year we've worked with 14 families. We spend months getting to know them. We sit down with whoever hires us and whoever we're filming, and we'll have a chat about why we've been hired and what they are looking for.

They'll tell us the things they'd love us to delve into a bit more. We'll also talk to them over the phone. We'll then have another meeting with just the person we're filming and we'll go into depth about what we are going to cover. We get the timeline of their life. Then we usually take a week in which we work out a documentary time line.

Sometimes we just go in and start filming. We call them visits - it's a bit like going to your grandmother's - and we film them pottering about. It doesn't have to be a big discussion. It can be more like a little snapshot of their life. This is lovely for people who are not really comfortable in front of the camera.

We had one client whose memory was going, but he had great memories of his work when he was younger. His kids just wanted something where he was animated and chatting and they didn't necessarily need the nitty gritty facts of his life.

Generally, people love it. There's no other time in their life where they've had people devoted to their story. They feel the things in their lives are valuable and treasured.

We've had a few people hire us just when a family member got bad news. Once or twice the person wasn't well enough to do it. We just gave the families advice about how to get some footage themselves.

The camera I use is quite small. We make a big deal of not connecting too many things to it so it's not looming large. When we arrive at someone's home, Michele has a cup of tea with the person and I set up. She's particularly lovely to chat to and she gets on with everyone.

We're getting a lot of people looking for weddings at the moment - couples who want to sit down and talk about how they met and their hopes for the future.

We've met new mums and their babies too. We usually do part of the video video when they're pregnant and then we go back after they've had the baby.

It's really a celebration of life. Small parts of the film may be talking about something sad but if it does go into that aspect of their life, it can be cathartic.

One of our recent interviewees was involved in something traumatic in life with her two children. It was something she always held inside and she was delighted to be able to tell it her way.

You become very close to people. You fall in love with the family. It's very hard to then hear them talk about something difficult. It can be tough to keep your distance and let them go through it. But you have to let them go all the way to the end of the story. We are very well trained in knowing when the story is over.

It's a feeling of honour for me - knowing that I've filmed something that is going to be seen by every generation of a family. If I had something like that of my great grandparents, I'd love it.

Every film is different. With the woman we last filmed, we spent three hours talking to her on camera, then we shortened that footage down to an hour and a half. She wanted to share something with all her friends, so we made a 10-minute video. We distilled it down and she has it on her phone.

When we started, we made the assumption people would want as much as possible. Everyone just wants a 10 to 15 minute video. They want something they can watch over and over.

There have been so many high points over the last year. One was the first time we handed over our package to a client and we got calls from their children who we'd never met telling us they couldn't imagine not having it.

I feel very honoured to have heard people's stories. I'd be delighted if 50 years from now I'm still doing this.

For more information see In conversation with Kathy Donaghy

Irish Independent

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