: Documentary
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: In Distribution


Every morning, writers and editors on the obituary desk at The New York Times deposit the details of a few extraordinary lives into the cultural memory – each story spun amid the daily beat of war, floods, and football scores. It’s amazing what goes on in the obits.


Obituaries are some of the most creative work in journalism. They’re human history in the making. Documentary storytelling in print. Beacons of our cultural identity. Neatly framed vignettes of worlds that will vanish along with their notable stars.

What drives this daily record keeping? Are we voyeurs? Culture seekers? Armchair historians? Do we see ourselves in them, or simply hope to bask in the warm light cast by their subjects as they exit the stage?

With first-ever access to The New York Times obituaries desk, and directed by Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Vanessa Gould, OBIT will look back at history and culture through the obituary writers and editors at The Times, the newspaper of note for obits.

Long-serving obituary editor of The New York Times, William McDonald, and his full staff have signed on, including: Bruce Weber, William Grimes, Douglas Martin, Margalit Fox and Paul Vitello. The New York Times has granted full access to its extensive archive, appropriately called the morgue. The morgue also houses the Times' famed advance obit files.

The writers will share the joys and challenges of their work: from the ins-and-outs of dealing with death on deadline, to the mysterious selection process, to the realities of embellished resumes, biased sources, and false claims (World War II duty, they say, is greatly over-reported). The daily curiosities surrounding The New York Times obituaries are inexhaustible.

On a more fundamental level, the film will de-emphasize the death, and uncover stories of lives lived in extraordinary ways, often below the radar. From the uncommon vantage point of these writers and editors, the film will reflect upon larger observable patterns in the converging cycles of life and culture, politics and values at the root of our society, as it accelerates and vanishes at the same time.



In 2010, Eric Joisel, one of the subjects 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 just 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 some final acknowledgement – for him to be recognized publicly. And so I wrote to most of the big English language newspapers around the world and informed them of his death. About a week later, the first and only paper that contacted me was The New York Times and 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 begin to understand the cultural and historical significance of obituaries. As I began a new daily ritual of reading The New York Times obituaries, 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 that is how this project came to be

––Vanessa Gould


Vanessa Gould - Director & Producer

Vanessa Gould is a filmmaker, editor and camera operator working in Brooklyn. Her film BETWEEN THE FOLDS premiered on PBS’s Independent Lens in December 2009 and was re-broadcast the following season. In 2010, it received a Peabody Award. BETWEEN THE FOLDS has been translated into more than ten languages and broadcast in dozens of countries on NHK, CBC, ABC, EBS, NRK, SF, SVT, Al Jazeera, Al Hurra, and other networks. It screened at more than forty-five international film festivals and was recognized with numerous audience and jury awards.  Other film works have shown at festivals and in museums around the world.

Gould is currently filming OBIT, a feature-length documentary about The New York Times obituaries and their writer-reporters. In 2012–2013, she produced and shot for Showtime's Emmy®-winning YEARS OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY, a documentary series about climate change executive produced by James Cameron, Jerry Weintraub and Arnold Schwarzenegger. She was a featured presenter at the EG 2010 conference in Monterey, California, and serves on the jury for the News & Documentary Emmy® Awards, as well as on several festival juries. In Summer 2013 she was cinematographer for the winning team at PBS POV's Hackathon 4, with the app concept "Abstraction". She occasionally paints and plays piano.

Caitlin Mae Burke - Producer

Caitlin Mae Burke is an Emmy-winning producer of documentary features, narrative short films, and non fiction television. She produced WE COULD BE KING (dir. Judd Ehrlich) which screened at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival and received a 2015 Sports Emmy for Outstanding Sports Documentary. Caitlin also produced SEX AND BROADCASTING (dir. Tim K Smith) which had a three night sold out premiere at DOC NYC 2014. She co-produced APPROACHING THE ELEPHANT (dir. Amanda Rose Wilder; Emerging Cinematic Vision Award, CIFF 2014, nominated for Best Debut Feature, 2015 Cinema Eye Honors and 2015 Truer Than Fiction Independent Spirit Award.)

She is currently in post production on two feature documentaries: NUTS! THE BRINKLEY STORY, (the second feature from OUR NIXON director Penny Lane) and OBIT (dir. Vanessa Gould) as well as several narrative shorts. Caitlin has produced television series for TLC, OWN, Discovery ID, SUNDANCE CHANNEL, CNBC and Discovery Health. She lives in Brooklyn.

Kristin Bye - Editor

Kristin Bye is a film editor and graphic designer based in New York City. She has edited numerous documentary and commercial shorts for clients including Bobbi Brown Cosmetics, Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), hillmancurtis, inc., JaegerSloan, Knoll, Nokia, Prescriptives, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Razorfish, R/GA, Squarespace, and Steinway & Sons.

Kristin's film credits include IVORY TOWER (assistant editor), a documentary on higher education for CNN Films which premiered at Sundance (dir. Andrew Rossi, PAGE ONE: INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES) and the David Byrne concert documentary RIDE, RISE, ROAR (assistant editor) which premiered at SXSW (dir. Hillman Curtis). She also worked as additional editor on STRAY DOG, a feature documentary following the life of a Vietnam vet (dir. Debra Granik, WINTER'S BONE) and was production assistant on INSIDE JOB (Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature 2011).

Prior to working in film, Kristin was a partner at studio 209, a graphic design studio in Portland, Oregon, for over 10 years. She is a Pacific Northwest native, studied art and design in France for 3 years, and loves to explore the world by foot, by bike and through film. She has a degree in International Studies from the University of Washington in Seattle.

Ben Wolf - Director of Photography

Ben Wolf is cinematographer and director, and owner of New York-based production company Topiary Productions, Inc. He works in documentary, fiction, and commercial projects, and is interested in the cross pollination that can occur between these different genres.

Recent DP credits include the feature documentary THE HAPPY FILM (about graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister), several broadcast spots for Citi, and web content for the New York Times and the Metropolitan Museum. Ben has directed projects for clients including Grey Advertising, Knoll, MOMA, and Sotheby’s, and shot content for Adobe, Ann Taylor, Bacardi, BAM, Bayer, BMW, Bobbi Brown, Citi, Covergirl, The Getty Museum, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, IBM, Illy, KPMG, MetLife, The Metropolitan Museum, The New York Times, Ogilvy, Pepsi, Pfizer, and Sprint.

He holds a B.A. in philosophy from Yale and an M.F.A. in film from Columbia.

Kenn Rabin - Consulting Producer & Archivist

Kenn Rabin has received two Emmy nominations and a FOCAL International Award for his extensive television and feature work. He began his career working with Bill Moyers at public television station WNET in New York, and to date, his over one hundred credits as writer, producer, researcher, or consultant include PBS’s 14-hour series EYES ON THE PRIZE; Barry Levinson’s YESTERDAY'S TOMORROWS (which he co-wrote and associate produced); PBS’s Frontline, ABC’s 20/20; and the 13-hour landmark public television series, VIETNAM: A TELEVISION HISTORY. His work on the PBS series American Experience, American Masters, Independent Lens and POV include many award-winning films, such as THE WEATHER UNDERGROUND, DAUGHTER FROM DANANG, Firelight Media’s JONESTOWN: LIFE AND DEATH OF PEOPLE'S TEMPLE; and others.

Rabin co-produced and co-wrote THE STORM THAT SWEPT MEXICO, a special broadcast for PBS, and consulted on the Academy Award nominee, HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE. INEQUALITY FOR ALL, a documentary about economist Robert Reich, was released theatrically by Radius/TWC. His most recent documentary credit is for COMPARED TO WHAT: THE IMPROBABLE JOURNEY OF BARNEY FRANK, and his most recent feature credit is the Ava DuVernay film, SELMA, for Paramount.
Other feature credits include Sean Penn’s directorial debut, THE INDIAN RUNNER; George Clooney’s GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK; Steven Soderbergh’s THE GOOD GERMAN; an Amy Heckerling comedy, I COULD NEVER BE YOUR WOMAN; Grant Heslov and George Clooney’s THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS and Gus Van Sant’s MILK.

He is currently working on three feature documentaries: BEATLES LIVE!, produced by One Voice One World Productions in association with the Beatles’ Apple Corps, to be directed by Ron Howard; OBIT, a Green Fuse film by award-winning producer Vanessa Gould (BETWEEN THE FOLDS); and WE'LL MEET AGAIN, a film about cryonics.

Josh Wick - Co-Producer

Josh Wick is an independent filmmaker and producer from Brooklyn, NY. His feature film work includes: OUT OF MY HAND (dir. Taskeshi Fukunaga, 2015) and WENDELL AND THE LEMON (dir. Lawrence Krauser, 2015) as executive producer; FRANCIS OF BROOKLYN (2012), as executive producer, writer and director; THE ASSASSIN (2007), as executive producer and co-writer.

Wick is also an actor and his latest roles include lead performances in Nameinuse Productions’ WHITE CREEK (2014) and ORPHANED (2013). He is a founding member of the Spectacle Theater film collective in Brooklyn, NY.


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