SXSW 2020 FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! An Elephant in the Room is the last documentary from Danish filmmaker Katrine Philp. The very raw film is about a group of children grieving the loss of loved ones over the course of their months-long therapy at a place called Good Grief in New Jersey.
The film follows the Good Grief participants in their daily lives at home and during their weekly group therapy sessions where children can process their feelings or what is happening to them and their family after the death of one or both of their parents. The school-like environment offers a safe haven for kids and the mums, dads, uncles or guardians left behind. There they can talk amongst friends and people who know what they are going through, write stories about their tragedies, or read about someone else and how they overcome theirs. Some of them might find it easier to paint their feelings, play them using puppets, or do toy burials.
“…group therapy sessions where children can process their feelings…after the death of one or both of their parents.”
While many can candidly talk – as most children naturally do – about the fatidic day that changed their lives forever without breaking down (which is incredible to witness), others might stay silent, still not able to accept their situations and need more time. But one important thing is that there is no taboo word at Good Grief, no right or wrong way to mourn, or at least the staff wants all to feel comfortable using whatever brings them closer to acceptance, whether it is believing one parent passed away to join another deceased family member, went to sleep because they were tired, went to God in Heaven, or simply died because that what people do.
From sadness to anger, pain, blues, depression, the young participants learn to express their state of mind in very detailed ways and are impressively elaborate, rational and calm. But when they cannot, they use vivid metaphors or other tools such as colors “blue and red feelings” amounting to chaotic purple paintings – sadly apt for the mourning process. No one that age should ever have to live through what many of them have lived and seen, from seeing a parent dying in front of them, being the one having to call an ambulance, learning about drug overdoses, and above all dealing with the tragic reveal of these situations that made them feel something new.