★★★★★ "Vanessa Gould has crafted the perfect documentary"
"Outright entertaining. My favorite documentary of the year so far."
Pete Hammond, Deadline
"One of the few great films I've seen about writing"
"One of the ten best films of 2017"
A FILM BY VANESSA GOULD
"Heartfelt and unshakable"
"Gould is a masterful documentarian"
The 13th Floor
(CRITIC'S PICK) "A fun and informative documentary that interviews several of the Times' most adept practitioners as they show and tell how it’s done, revealing personal philosophies and work methods as they go about bringing the dead to life."
– Kenneth Turan
"My favorite documentary of 2017. So far. It will be hard to top for doing what the best kinds of documentaries do. As documentaries go, few of them are as outright entertaining to watch as director Vanessa Gould’s fascinating treatment of The New York Times obituary reporters."
– Pete Hammond
"'Obit' believes in curiosity, anecdote, and concision, the detail that encapsulates and the window that opens onto history. A a remarkably good film about the craft of writing."
– Stuart Klawans
"One of the most endearing—and, perhaps surprisingly, uplifting—films I’ve seen in awhile. As Fox tells us, 'Obits have next to nothing to do with death and absolutely everything to do with life.' The same is true of Gould’s remarkable film."
– Caitlin Youngquist
★★★ "Informative, fascinating and surprisingly funny. As this riveting documentary demonstrates, the Times staff that chronicles the passing of both heroes and villains strives to make sure their obits have next to nothing to do with death and everything to do with life."
– Rex Reed
"'Obit' is a life-affirming, slyly amusing, affectionate tribute to the skilled reporters at the New York Times who spend their days gathering information and writing the first-draft mini-histories of the most interesting players on the world stage."
– Richard Roeper
"'Obit' is a rich, compelling portrait of a profession that rarely receives the dignity it so graciously affords others..' (link)
"A delightful look at death stories: Director Vanessa Gould cleverly weaves in archival footage, and as the writers narrate obituaries, we see the subjects of the stories in the prime of their lives. The effect is powerful." (link)
"A joyous work despite the potentially morbid subject matter, a celebration of life and the craft of writing.." (link)
"Stunning. Fascinating." (link)
"Death Becomes Them" (link)
"A New Film Brings The New York Times Obituary Section to Life’" (link)
"13 Best Movies in Theaters Right Now–Obit, surprisingly thoughtful." (link)
"4 Must-See Movies from the Tribeca Film Festival" (link)
"Documentary Goes Inside the Secret World of N.Y. Times Obit Writers" (link)
"Tribeca 2016 Women Directors: Meet Vanessa Gould – ‘Obit’" (link)
"'Died Is Died Is Died': Talking with Vanessa Gould and Margalit Fox of Obit" (link)
★★★1/2 "Excellent doc follows New York Times writers who chronicle the lives of the dead. Documentarian Vanessa Gould leads her viewer by the hand through the day in a life of the darling weirdos at The New York Times obituary desk. Here stands one of the quirkiest writing departments you will find still working in print...Gould’s excellent documentary stretches the spectator to consider why bearing witness to a life collectively is so very worth the trouble."
– Julia Cooper
"Director Vanessa Gould has crafted the perfect documentary with morbid wit and fearless curiosity... Obit morphs into a chilling suspense thriller as obituary writer Bruce Weber battles with a blank page under a tight deadline. This type of conflict is unique to the writer, and rarely caught on film in such gory detail... Death, the great haunter, hovers at the foot of this film, but is examined in a way that is surprisingly inspirational, uplifting and often hilarious." ★★★★★
– William Garre
"'Obit' teems with colorful anecdotes. Gould’s camera hovers as reporters research, call relatives and pitch pieces to editors. She mixes the fly-on-the-wall work with abnormally eloquent interviews — these are Times writers, after all — and splashes of archival footage to take us outside the cubicles. The film celebrates human achievement and human strangeness. It effuses an obit writer’s intellectual curiosity and itch for a good story."
– Soheil Rezayazdi
"At The New York Times, the obituary beat is no career dead-end. Obit editor William McDonald gets to weigh the desires of writers like Bruce Weber and Paul Vitello, who seem often to fall in love with these people they'll never meet. Those writers make for fun company here, however much they claim people avoid them at cocktail parties. But they're sometimes upstaged by seersucker- clad Jeff Roth, an overseer of the paper's vast archive of clippings. Wry about the arcane way things are organized (or not) here, he's an obsessive whose enthusiasm is contagious."
– John DeFore
"'Obit', ironically, lightens the mood. Vanessa Gould's documentary serves as a genial companion piece to 'Spotlight,' in its sincere devotion to a tiny subdivision of a great American newspaper. Like 'Spotlight,' 'Obit' actually makes you feel good about the media, if only for the care and high standards we see in action, on deadlines that will seem cushy to some and nearly impossible to others.
– Michael Phillips
★★★★ "One wouldn't assume a documentary about New York Times obituary columnists would be laugh-out-loud funny. This dying art is practiced by an aging bullpen of wry hunters-and-peckers who strive to immortalize striking details in the lives of people who made a quantifiable impact on the world—on deadline. The writers' stories are juxtaposed snugly beside the details of their subjects to create an exceptionally tight, often hilarious film."
– Nathan Carson
"The obituarists are remarkably versatile writers—my own editor thinks they must be some of the best writers in the world." (link)
"A valentine. 'Obit' explores the inner workings of that paper’s obituaries desk, in immensely satisfying, cinéma vérité style." (link)
"A nimbly made movie that benefits from its subjects’ inherent appeal, as well as their profound sense of compassion.." (link)
"Documentary explores the art of obituary writing" with Tom Brook
"'Obit' Documentary Follows Journalists Who Tell Lively Stories Of Death" with Bob Mondello
"Vanessa Gould bring the work of obit writers to life" with CBC q's Laurie Brown (link)
"For 'New York Times' Obit Writers, 'Death Is Never Solicitous Of A Deadline'" with Dave Davies (link)
"With Obit, Vanessa Gould proves something I’ve said for years: pound-for-pound…or perhaps word-for-word is more apt…there is no better writing, and no better storytelling, in any national daily newspaper than there is in the obituary section."
– Michael Nazarewycz
"Gould, who received a Peabody Award for Between the Folds, a documentary exploring the art of origami, brings a type of Errol Morris intimacy to the film as her interviewees stare down the barrel of the camera while extemporizing, seemingly without need of a directorial nudge."
– Aaron Linskens
"A fascinating story of life (and death) in the obit department of the New York Times. The pieces they write have next to nothing to do with death. They’re about the life that preceded the end, and the better the life, the more the obit writer is motivated to step up. (Good movies – like this one – affect critics in a similar way.)"
– Chris Knight
"A funny, philosophical film, well worth seeing." –Marc Glassman (read more)
–Patrick Mullen (read more)
"Review: ‘Obit’ Follows the Team That Writes Death Notices for The Times" – Gene Seymour (link)
"You’ve Read the Obits, Now See the Movie" – Margalit Fox (link)
"Obit for the Obits" – Bruce Weber (link)
"Lights, Camera, Obits!" – William Grimes (link)
CONNECT WITH US
at The New York Times deposits the details of three or four extraordinary lives into the cultural memory – each life’s story spun amid the daily beat of war, politics, and football scores. It’s amazing what goes on in the obits.
There are only a handful of editorial obituary writers in the world, and none are better than at The Times, where obits have become some of the best writing in journalism. Documentary storytelling in print. First drafts of contemporary history. Mirrors of life’s great variety, humor and pathos. Neatly framed vignettes of worlds that will vanish along with their notable stars.
OBIT is the first documentary to look into the world of editorial obituaries, via the legendary obit desk at The Times. The film invites some of the most essential questions we ask ourselves about life, memory and the inevitable passage of time. What do we choose to remember? What never dies?
Longtime obituary editor of The New York Times William McDonald, and past and present staff writers on the desk are featured: including Bruce Weber, Margalit Fox, William Grimes, Douglas Martin and Paul Vitello. The Times' century-old archive (appropriately called the morgue), along with its last remaining full-time archivist Jeff Roth, is also featured.
The writers de-emphasize the death, and tell stories of lives lived in extraordinary ways, often below the radar. With this comes uncommon insights – insights only the rare obituary writer could have – into the passage of generations, the astonishing cycle of life, the ebb and flow of time, and culture as it appears to accelerate and vanish at the same time.
OBIT is a recipient of a 2015 NYSCA Artist Grant, and received support from IFP and Made In NY Media Center.
Every morning, a small staff of obituary writers
Former staff editor, NYT Book Review. Cellist. Handspinner. Author of "The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code."
Former NYT book critic, restaurant critic and culture correspondent. Author of two books on culinary history.
Former editor on the NYT Metropolitan, National and Education desks.
Worked at the Times for 34 years, previously as an energy correspondent, a writer of the "About New York" column, and a reporter on everything from environment to jails.
Former editor on NYT Metro, National and Cultural news desks. Editor of three books of Times obits. Member of the Pulitzer-Prize winning team for series on race in America.
Working the Times news morgue since 1993.
Working the NYT Obituaries and Metropolitan desks since 2005. Moonlights as a general assignment reporter.
Previously, a Metropolitan and Religion reporter for the Times, and a columnist for Newsday.
Former theater critic and culture reporter. Fiction editor at Esquire. Cross-country cyclist, author and graduate of baseball umpire school.
In his home town of Sannois outside Paris, in the summer of 2010.
featured in my last film, BETWEEN THE FOLDS, passed away at age 54. For me, it was a dual experience. He had become a good friend, so I prepared as best I could for the loss of a friend. What I didn’t anticipate were the feelings that come with the early death of an artist. Ideas unfinished. Pieces frozen in time. Singular ambitions and thoughts gone with him. Everything stopped. Of course, no one else can ever finish them.
Eric was a solitary person. I was afraid that all we knew of him might disappear with time. I wanted him to have a final acknowledgement – to be recognized publicly. And so I sent a short announcement to most of the big English language newspapers around the world. About a week later, the first and only paper that responded was The New York Times. They ran a beautiful and fitting obituary on him, along with photos of him and his work. It recognized the unique value of the things to which he was so devoted. It logged him into the historical record. A good account of his life and work is now available. Recognition had mostly eluded him, and I can’t even begin to think how he’d feel if he had seen it.
This led me to a deep point of curiosity about the cultural, historical and journalistic gravity of obituaries. As I began a new daily ritual of reading The New York Times obits, I soon discovered that nearly every one points to an incredible human story, along with larger contexts of place and time, history and culture. A few months later, I contacted The New York Times about doing a documentary, and began soon after.