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Isaiah Owens takes a very personal approach to being a Harlem funeral director in new documentary, HOMEGOINGS

HOMEGOINGS (Christine Turner, 2013)
Maysles Institute
343 Malcolm X Blvd. between 127th & 128th Sts.
June 24-30, $10 suggested donation, 7:30 (June 27 at 4:00 only)

Ever since he was a boy growing up on a farm in South Carolina, Isaiah Owens, the son of a sharecropper, has been burying the dead, beginning with small animals. As a teenager, he moved to New York City to train to become a funeral director, and for the last forty years, he has run the Owens Funeral Home in Harlem, where he continues to be a longtime pillar of the community, known for the great care and consideration he gives each family as they deal with the loss of a loved one. His company motto is “Where Beauty Softens Your Grief,” and that is evident throughout Christine Turner’s new documentary, Homegoings. Turner followed Owens over the course of four years as he and his staff — his wife, son, daughter, and mother all work in the family business — set up funerals for such clients as Walter Simons, whose octogenarian grandparents died within two days of each other; Queen Petra’s children, who want something special for their mother, including a horse and carriage; and Linda “Redd” Williams-Miller, who is planning her funeral in advance, wanting to get every detail right. And details are what Owens is all about, not only working hard to make sure the deceased look their best in their coffin but guaranteeing that every aspect of the funeral is handled with great thought and humanity. Owens narrates the documentary, sharing his views on life and death as well as the history of mourning in the African-American community. He is an inspiring man who is not what most people expect in funeral directors, who are often portrayed as being dark and morose. Williams-Miller says that homegoings should be “a happy occasion,” and Owens is ready, willing, and able to ensure that the experience is precisely what each individual family wants and needs. Homegoings, which was made in conjunction with PBS’s POV program and features an original score by Daniel Bernard Roumain, is having its U.S. theatrical premiere June 24-30 at the Maysles Cinema in Harlem, not very far from the Owens Funeral Home itself, as part of guest curator Livia Bloom’s continuing “Documentary in Bloom” series. The hour-long film will be preceded by StoryCorps Shorts: A Tenth Anniversary Program, a twenty-minute collection of animations the Rauch Brothers have made with the organization that has been amassing an oral history of America for a decade. The June 25 and 28 screenings of Homegoings will be followed by a Q&A with Turner and members of the cast, with a reception as well on June 28.

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