Radboud researchers lift the taboo surrounding death with a film festival

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We all prefer not to think about death. According to Radboud researcher Enny Das, films can help us deal better with our fear of death. Therefore she is organising a film festival on 10 and 11 November, in collaboration with colleague researchers, science film festival InScience and LUX Nijmegen. Laughing about death, learning the best way to die in a film and sitting down at your own last supper: all possible during the Sterf! Film Festival.

Many people have a fundamental fear of death. So how come we voluntarily watch films and series about death? Enny Das, communication and information scientist, asked herself the same question. She is also director of the Centre for Language Studies at Radboud University. In a , she and a team of researchers studied what we can learn about death from what is known as ’tragic entertainment’. "Films can create space for looking at death in different ways," she explains. Visitors can experience that for themselves during the Sterf! Film Festival in LUX Nijmegen , on 10 and 11 November.

"Death doesn’t necessarily have to be sad," Das says. "Many Hollywood films present death as the worst thing that can happen to you, but there are also other ways of looking at death, take for example the film Amour, it is indeed confronting, but it does give a different view."

There will also be comedy films during the festival, such as Swiss Army Man, in which a man on an uninhabited island starts up a friendship with a washed-up corpse. Then there’s the moving Japanese film, Departures , about a person who washes and dresses deceased persons for the funeral. And there are surprising extra events such as a mobile animal crematorium, where children can take small dead animals to be cremated, after a short ceremony. People can also share their experiences with the films, in a telephone box. Their input will be used for research.


According to Enny Das, it would be good if death were more visible in society. Deceased persons used to be laid out at home much more often, and buried under the church or in the graveyard in the middle of a village or city. Nowadays, cemeteries are frequently situated outside the city and funeral services are clinical: you barely see the deceased or not at all.

To Das, pushing death out of sight is a problem. "As a strategy, it’s understandable, because you don’t want to become paralysed by the thought of death and still get on with life. But things you suppress often only get bigger. It’s really time to lift the taboo surrounding death. By focusing more on it, we can learn to deal better with our fear."

Tragic entertainment

And films can help with that. For example, Das and her colleague researchers studied the effects of popular hospital series such as House and Grey’s Anatomy. Some death scenes appeared to contribute to more acceptance by viewers; for example, when the death is a sweet release for someone who is suffering greatly.

"It can be nice to experience other people’s emotions through films," Das explains. "Afterwards, you can shake off those emotions, but you have been able to practise dealing with it, as it were." However, that doesn’t apply to everyone. Watching a film that gives meaning to death can help people, in particular, who are already dealing with death. People who are not often become more frightened of death after watching film scenes about it.

Das emphasises that the Sterf! Film Festival is suitable for everyone, also those who don’t want to feel sadness. "There is a broad selection of films, also for people who want to cry, laugh or be scared by horror."

For the full programme and tickets, see LUX Nijmegen .

Want to find out more? Please contact Marieke van Egeraat via marieke.vanegeraat [at] ru.nl ( marieke[dot]vanegeraat[at]ru[dot]nl ) or  Science Communication  by calling  024 361 6000  or sending an e-mail to  media [at] ru.nl ( media[at]ru[dot]nl ) .