Michelle Boyaner and Barbara Green (the real life couple behind Greenie Films) have made a documentary that, at first glance, may seem like a hard sell. A Finished Life: The Goodbye & No Regrets Tour, introduces audiences to Gregg Gour, a 48-year old gay man with AIDS who is given six months to live, then decides to end his life on his own terms.
Gour, HIV-positive for 24 years, gives away his belongings, buys an RV, and travels across the United States with his dog to say goodbye to family and friends. He stops taking his medication, and he stops fighting death. Filmmakers Boyaner and Green accompany him and create a record of his journey, and the result is surprisingly life-affirming.
A Finished Life is a hit on the festival circuit, recently had a run on here! television, and this week was released on DVD by First Run Features. We caught up with the filmmakers to talk about their experience of making A Finished Life, the state of independent and LGBT cinema, and what’s next for Greenie Films.
Michelle Boyaner and Barbara Green
AfterEllen.com: How did you come to meet Gregg Gour and decide to make a film about his life?
Michelle Boyaner: Barbara and I met Gregg through Barbara’s sister Joyce, who had worked with Gregg on The AIDS Ride. She had become close friends with him over the years and one day in January 2006, she called us to ask our opinion on a going away gift for her friend Gregg. She said he was going on his “Goodbye & No Regrets Tour” and she wanted to get him a license plate frame for the RV he had just bought.
She went on to explain that he had gone off of his AIDS medications and had recently been given six months to live. He was embarking on a tour to drive across the country to say goodbye to all his friends and family.
I was immediately overwhelmed at the thought and wondered many things: "Who is this guy? What do you mean he went off his meds? If he were my friend, I would be trying to talk him out of it!" I needed to meet him.
I asked Joyce if anyone was documenting his story. She gave us his number and by the next afternoon, we had met him, helped him pack some boxes, and agreed that we would begin to document his journey, not knowing for how long or what form it would take.
AE: Going on such a personal and emotional journey with someone must have been extremely challenging and interesting. How were you affected by the process of making the film?
MB: This was an incredibly emotional journey, spending so much time with someone at such an intensely personal time in their lives. Although struggling with Gregg’s decision, his friends and family welcomed us into their lives, too.
From behind the camera, Barbara has always talked about feeling somewhat protected from the emotion of what’s going on, knowing it’s her job to capture it visually. But as the writer or storyteller, I found myself constantly putting myself in the other peoples shoes, wondering what that must feel like; to be saying goodbye to Gregg for the last time, letting him go.
As we spent time with Gregg, we, too, became friends with him. You couldn’t help it, he was just that kind of person. There were many times when I found myself wanting to try and talk him out of it. I hoped he’d go back on his meds, change his mind, but eventually after hours and hours of watching his journey unfold, we understood why he made the decisions he did.