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N.C. Documentary Wins International Recognition

(09/15/2004 - Denver, CO) N.C. filmmakers Jay Niver and Jay Spain have won a prestigious Gold Award in the 30th Annual Media Festival sponsored by the Health & Science Communications Association (HeSCA).

SpaiNiver Films was honored at HeSCA's international conference in Denver, where Live and Let Go - An American Death was one of only four gold winners cited for "the very best in health science communications." Twenty-two others were awarded silver and bronze honors in four categories: film, video, print, and interactive media.

HeSCA membership is worldwide and diverse, broadly described as biomedical communicators. From conceptualization to final products, its members are involved in designing, producing, implementing, and evaluating informational and instructional media experiences for the health sciences.

The HeSCA media festival is internationally known as the pre-eminent competition in health-sciences communication.

Live and Let Go
Grabs First Place Honor

(11/09/2003 - Asheville, NC) Live and Let Go An American Death was named Best Documentary on Nov. 8, 2003, at the inaugural Asheville Film Festival.  Jurors chose the chronicle of Sam Niver and his right-to-die plea over 14 other documentaries, including Rebecca Cerese's acclaimed February One, the story the nonviolent Greensboro (NC) lunch-counter sit-ins that galvanized the civil-rights movement throughout the South.

Writer/producer Jay Niver accepted the award for Live and Let Go at an SRO banquet at Blue Ridge Motion Pictures studios, where veteran Hollywood character actor Pat Hingle was an honored guest speaker. Hingle told the crowd that North Carolina must "pull together as a family" to keep the state's movie industry alive. Niver told them that "the right to die can coexist with, and be just as strong as, the right to life."

Niver and editor David Iversen were at the Nov. 7 screening and answered post-film questions from nearly 100 who attended. Iversen was back on Sunday, Nov. 9, to host an encore showing that attracted almost as many viewers.

Other competition documentaries included: I Can't Marry You, which explores the intimate lives of gay and lesbian couples and is narrated by Betty DeGeneres, mother of comedian/actress Ellen DeGeneres; Brothers ... On Holy Ground, filmed days after 9-11 to reveal the agony and pride of NYC firefighters who lost co-workers in the World Trade Center; and Rod Murphy's Greater Southbridge, an unconventional dissection of a small New England town.  Finishing second behind Live and Let Go was George Guehl's King of Bluegrass: The Life & Times of Jimmy Martin.

The Asheville festival showcased 51 films including features, documentaries, shorts and student productions. My Dinner with Jimi was named Best Feature. Directed by Bill Fishman and produced by Harold Bronson, it recounts the true story of a 1967 meeting between The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix and how it changed the life of lead singer Howard Kaylan of The Turtles.

'Live and Let Go' Garners Media Attention
As part of its successful screening at the Asheville Film Festival, Live and Let Go grabbed considerable exposure with local media, even before it was named "Best Documentary" in competition.

Writer/producer Jay Niver was interviewed live by public radio's Ellen Pfirrman on WNCW, and he recorded "Issues and Answers," a 20-minute public-affairs program hosted by Valerie Watts on WOXL 96.5. That show will be broadcast Saturday, Nov. 22 and Sunday, Nov. 23.

Niver is also slated to do a Dec. 9 call-in show ("Evening Rounds") with David Hurand, host and news director at WCQS, "Public Radio for Western Carolina."

Writer/reviewer Sam Watson at the daily Johnson City (TN) Press noticed Live and Let Go when it was previewed to the media before the festival. He gave it an "A-" rating and called the film "as compelling as it gets."

SCETV Will Air Broadcast Debut

(10/22/2003 - Raleigh, NC) An edited version of Live and Let Go An American Death will have its television broadcast debut early in 2004 as part of South Carolina public television's "Southern Lens" series.   SCETV chose Live and Let Go on condition that an abridged version be aired, cutting about 90 seconds from the film.

"Obviously, we hope that folks accept the film in its entirety," said writer-producer Jay Niver. "Still, we understand the sensitivities that a broad television audience may have, and programmers have to be aware of that. We're just grateful that SCETV had the courage to accept our film and deal with this volatile topic of the right to die."

Southern Lens was launched in August 2002 and airs the first Thursday night of every month.  It has become one of ETV's highest-rated local programs.

The series spotlights independent Southern filmmakers and indie films that focus on the South. Southern Lens' Amy Shumaker said Live and Let Go will be packaged and promoted as one of "four strong films we're using to start the year." They include Rebecca Cerese's February One, the story of the nonviolent Greensboro (NC) lunch-counter sit-ins that transformed the civil-rights movement.

Fall Festival Screenings Take Place in N.C., Massachusetts

(10/22/2003 - Raleigh, NC) Live and Let Go's two latest film-festival screenings will take place just hours apart on Nov. 7 and 8.  The inaugural Asheville (NC) Film Festival will screen the documentary at 8 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 7, with the established Northampton (Mass.) Independent Film Festival showing it the following morning at 9:15.

"Spirit of Human Potential in Film" is the theme for the Asheville event, set Nov. 6-9 in this Smoky Mountain town. Organizers say the festival's theme is a reflection of the 51 films to be screened, including features and documentaries, student films and shorts.

Live and Let Go An American Death was one of two feature-length works previewed to the media Oct. 13.
Two years in the planning, Melissa Porter says the idea for an Asheville festival was sparked by a visit to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, three years ago. "Asheville, like Park City, has places for movie screens downtown, cool restaurants, and a large and growing community of filmmakers. A film festival could work just as easily here as there," she said.

Jay Niver was interviewed by WNCW Public Radio's Ellen Pfirrmann on Oct. 21. In addition, WCQS, NPR for Western N.C., will make Live and Let Go the subject of its Dec. 9 "Evening Rounds" call-in program, hosted by News Director David Hurand.

Celebrated actress and Asheville resident Andie McDowell will officially open the festival at a Thursday-night gala at the Grove Park Inn with a screening of Ang Lee's "One Last Ride," starring Chazz Palminteri, Robert Davi, Charles Durning and Patrick Cupo.

N.C. premiere draws crowd, earns high rating

(4/30/03 - Winston-Salem) Live and Let Go played to a full house and earned the highest review accorded any film at the RiverRun International Film Festival April 24-27 in Winston-Salem, N.C.   RiverRun selected 12 documentary features from more than 200 films submitted. Screenings took place downtown and on the campus of the North Carolina School of the Arts.

It was the in-state premiere for Live and Let Go An American Death, which was filmed largely in Sneads Ferry with post-production done in Raleigh. It was the only RiverRun film to earn a 3.5-star rating from reviewers at the Winston-Salem Journal.

Critic Mark Burger called it "one of the most powerful and thought-provoking films being shown ... an eloquent and remarkably even-handed approach to a heated topic."

Live and Let Go was also the subject of a Journal feature article, an interview with filmmaker Jay Niver. He and Director Jay Spain, along with co-producer Gretchen Niver, attended the festival and answered questions for more than 30 minutes after their sold-out screening at the NCSA Gold theater. Click here to view a .pdf version of this article or click here to view the .jpg version.

A rough cut of Live and Let Go first screened to a RiverRun focus group in fall of 1999. Festival founder and Executive Director Gene D'Onofrio "has been supportive since Day One," said Spain. "We felt honored to be back at RiverRun for our home-state premiere."

Filmmakers premiere in home state

(4/05/03 - Raleigh, NC) Live and Let Go An American Death will premiere in the filmmakers' home state on Saturday, April 26 at the RiverRun International Film Festival in Winston-Salem, NC.  The controversial right-to-die documentary premiered last summer in Los Angeles and has since screened at film festivals in Minneapolis, Greenwich (CN) and Tiburon (CA). 

RiverRun will be hosted this year by the prestigious North Carolina School of the Arts after its initial four-year run in the picturesque Smoky Mountains town of Brevard.  Dale Pollock, dean of the NCSA School of Filmmaking, convinced festival founder Gene D'Onofrio to bring RiverRun to Winston-Salem. By partnering with the arts conservatory, and moving to a major city, festival organizers hope to more than double attendance and exposure.

D'Onofrio, whose son, Vincent, stars in TV's Law and Order - Criminal Intent, said this year's festival will have a heavy educational component. "We want to build a creative think tank for filmmakers, both professional and student," he said.  He also said the festival will showcase regional and independent filmmaking, in keeping with the adopted slogan of "The Sundance of the South." 

"We want RiverRun to be what Sundance was in the early days," said Pollock.  Live and Let Go will be shown at the Gold Theater on the School of the Arts campus.

Admission to all RiverRun films is $5.  For more information, call the festival office at 336-831-1914.

Tiburon Festival Wants Right-to-Die Documentary

(1/16/03 - Raleigh, NC)  Following it's world premiere and three successful festival appearances in 2002, Live and Let Go - An American Death will begin the new year in the Tiburon International Film Festival, March 14-20 in Tiburon, CA.

Live and Let Go is the controversial documentary that chronicles Sam Niver's dying plea for doctor-assisted suicide. It debuted in Los Angeles last July where it was the subject of a lengthy L.A. Times column by Dana Parsons. In September, film critics in Minneapolis-St. Paul gave it two solid reviews when it played at the Central Standard Film Festival.

Writer/producer Jay Niver, Sam's son, is showing the film in New York this month at the invitation of the city's Hemlock Society chapter. It is the second time they have gathered to see the film, which was first shown there just days before the 9-11 attacks in 2001.

Also this month, Director Jay Spain will be making his 14th trip to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, UT, where he will take part in the varied "House of Docs" programming that aims exclusively at documentary filmmakers.

In other news, Hemlock Society USA (headquartered in Denver) has ordered its second shipment of Live and Let Go VHS copies, which are now available to the public through Hemlock's website ( The filmmakers' own site is being updated and augmented with some of Sam's popular columns, which he wrote in retirement and were published in the daily Warren (PA) Times-Mirror.

This year's Tiburon festival ( will feature tributes to John Frankenheimer and Santiago Alvarez. The town of Tiburon itself is a San Francisco suburb that is the departure point for Marin County commuters who ferry across the bay to San Francisco.


Screening at St. Paul, MN Festival

(August 12) On the heels of its successful July premiere in Los Angeles, Live and Let Go - An American Death will screen in September at the Rolling River Music and Film Festival in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Rolling River presents five days and nights of world-class music and independent film along the Mississippi, Sept. 18-22.  Thirty features and eleven documentaries will be screened from the hundreds of entries submitted.

Programmer Todd Hansen was familiar with Live and Let Go from his tenure at the Los Angeles Film Festival. He invited filmmakers Jay Spain and Jay Niver to the Twin Cities to share the story of Sam Niver and share the story of Sam Niver's powerful plea for death with dignity and physician-assisted suicide.

L.A. Times columnist Dana Parsons wrote a major piece on the film when it debuted last month at the DancesWithFilms festival.  As a result, we have been contacted by Tim Cornell at The Scotsman, Scotland's national newspaper, about doing a future story.  We also heard from Oregon's Death With Dignity organization, which will be considering Live and Let Go for programming in conjunction with the upcoming 5-year anniversary of that state's physician-assisted suicide law.

We made a number of great contacts in L.A., among filmmakers and right-to-die advocates alike. Hemlock leaders including Dr. Richard MacDonald and actress Mimi Manners were wonderfully supportive, as were all the other indie filmmakers.

World Premiere in Los Angeles

(July 3) Live and Let Go - An American Death, the groundbreaking documentary about Sam Niver's dying plea for doctor-assisted suicide, will have its official world premiere at the DancesWithFilms Festival July 12-18 in Los Angeles.

In its fifth year, DWF has quickly gained industry recognition as the only major American festival that remains dedicated to the truly "independent" filmmaker - aspiring artists who tell stories without "name" actors, directors or producers.

Live and Let Go has previewed to film and advocacy groups in New York, Boston, Indianapolis, L.A. and elsewhere, but the DWF screening will mark its official public debut, as well its first acceptance into a nationally recognized competitive festival.

Writer Jay Niver and Director Jay Spain suspect that the film's highly personal, controversial topic will attract media attention in festivals where it fits the programming agenda. 

"We're proud that DancesWithFilms has accepted Sam's story to share first publicly with a West Coast audience," says Spain.

"Jack Kevorkian put assisted-suicide on the front page, and he's in jail," says Niver. "Oregon voters made it legal, and now John Ashcroft wants to put Oregon doctors in jail if they help patients die peacefully."

"It's tough to take a public stand on this, like Dad did so intimately."

DWF premieres have gone on to compete and win at other festivals including Sundance, Telluride, Montreal and Berlin. The festival and its films have garnered attention on all major broadcast networks, CNN, in the L.A. Times, and in industry press including Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.

In its first year, more than 40 percent of DWF works found domestic distribution deals with outlets like HBO, Cinemax, PBS and Warner Brothers.

DancesWithFilms received more than 1200 entries this year, and only 25 feature-length films were accepted. Live and Let Go - An American Death will premiere at 1 p.m. Sunday, July 14, at Laemmle's Theatre in Santa Monica, sole venue for DWF.  Hemlock Society officers have been invited to attend

Japan views Live and Let Go

(Raleigh, February 2002) The Japan Society for Death with Dignity, after frustrating delays in international communication, this month is receiving the latest cut of Live and Let Go An American Death.

Society Director Meiko Moori learned about the film in buzz that followed its international conference preview in fall of 2000, and had been in tenuous touch ever since via cyberspace.

Given differences in currencies, getting the Society's donation to the filmmakers was a challenge. After three or four e-mails spanning more than a year, a Japanese money order solved the dilemma and raised some eyebrows with local N.C. bank tellers who had never seen such a thing.

Film featured at Indianapolis Spirit and Place festival

(Indianapolis, November 2001) Under the umbrella of "Stretching Limits," Live and Let Go screened here as part of the annual Spirit and Place festival.

Sponsored by the state chapter of the Hemlock Society, writer-producer Jay Niver attended the showing at Marion County Public Library, to answer questions and talk about Hemlock's "Caring Friends" program.

Spirit and Place is a weeklong festival of widely varied public programs involving arts, education and popular entertainment. This year's theme was Stretching Limits, and Hemlock thought the topic of assisted-suicide and the right to die with dignity fit squarely within that description.

Film previews in New York; filmmakers visit WTC on 9-10

(New York, September 2001) - North Carolina filmmakers took their ground-breaking documentary, Live and Let Go - An American Death, to New York City for a preview showing that coincided with the New York International Independent Film & Video Festival, a non-competitive marketing forum. Director Jay Spain, editor David Iversen, and siblings Jay and Gretchen Niver screened it for a crowded room of local Hemlock Society members.  The events of 9-11 ended NYIIFVF less than halfway through its schedule. Ironically, Gretchen and Jay had visited the top of the World Trade Centers the day before, on Monday afternoon, Sept. 10.

In December, David accompanied the film to Los Angeles for NYIIFVF's West Coast edition. Live and Let Go again was well received and earned a juror's award for "Best American Documentary."

Preview Screening at World Conference on Assisted Dying

(Boston, September 2000) - A video preview screening of the current cut of Live and Let Go - An American Death screened September 2 to a large and attentive audience at the Hemlock Society's World Conference on Assisted Dying.

Almost 400 attendees from around the world gathered in Boston to share their experiences and concerns about end-of-life options, and learn the latest progress - and setbacks - in the global drive to let terminally ill people have choice and security when facing death.

Live and Let Go was part of the convention's "Right to Die Film Festival," which mainly featured Hollywood renditions and interpretations of compelling, poignant storylines. Films were shown on Friday and Saturday nights in the Terrace room of the Boston Park Plaza.

Co-producers Jay and Gretchen Niver attended the conference at the invitation of the Hemlock Society. Jay spoke Friday along with Hemlock President Faye Girsh, addressing attendees in the main ballroom as an introduction to the film series. He told the crowd to believe in the power of public opinion, and that maybe a film like Live and Let Go can help sway it. 

He also noted the difficulty people have in dealing with real death on screen, as opposed to a Hollywood version (even when rendering a true story).

Live and Let Go excerpts were featured two nights in primetime news on Boston television, and Jay was interviewed by PAX and New England cable TV networks. The 4-minute Live and Let Go trailer was the only b-roll video provided to the media by conference organizers.

At the Live and Let Go preview showing, viewers were visibly moved and support was overwhelming after the credits rolled. Jay answered questions about his father's death, legal concerns, Sam's ability to obtain the needed drugs, and how he and Gretchen felt committed to support their dad in his "self-deliverance."

Viewers also provided valuable feedback on the film itself. Many in attendance expressed hope they could show it to local Hemlock chapters, as soon it is available for purchase and public viewing.  

After receiving positive feedback from 2001 Sundance and Los Angeles Film Festivals the film is still searching for it's audience. We would like to thank Nicole Guillumet and John Cooper at Sundance for their kind words of encouragement in this regard.

Filmmakers Travel To Sundance 2000
(excerpts from The Raleigh Spectator written by James Hyatt)

Jay Spain, right with fellow North Carolina Filmmakers Scott Carr and James Hyatt

...The first group consists of the "two Jays," writer/director Jay Niver and producer/cinematographer Jay Spain. Spain is owner of Raleigh's Communications Group and has either produced, shot or done both for most of the Triangle's homegrown feature film projects.

  Niver and Spain together have produced Live and Let Go, a documentary about Jay Niver's father's battle with cancer and his decision to end his pain and loss of control over his life through assisted suicide. The suicide and its aftereffects on the family are wrenching scenes that have produced a wide range of emotions and reactions from people who've watched them in test screenings.

  Why didn't this documentary make the cut? My theory is it was simply a matter of timing: they submitted it on deadline, and it's highly unlikely the Sundance screeners were holding one or two spots open for works that happened to come in over the transom during the final blast of hundreds of other docs.

  The second Triangle group is a real couple, local filmmaker David Iversen and his wife, Mary Michelle Little. Iversen - who edited Live and Let Go - wrote, produced and directed the as-yet-undistributed noir feature, Chesterfield, and probably has another project on his mind, although he's been tight-lipped about this.

 The two Jays are the first to roll out, and make it to Park City by the time the festival starts on Thursday, Jan. 20. This was Niver's first time at Sundance, and really, one of the first times this normally quiet reporter has had to be a newsmaker. He was understandably nervous and a little uncertain.

  "I didn't know what to expect. I'm a print journalist, a novice to the 'film festival' scene," Niver said. "My 'economy plan' (if you want festival color) was crashing with Jay Spain, et al, in their friend's townhouse just down the road from Park City. I got cheap airfare over the Net, and soon learned to skip early meals so I could hit happy hour and evening parties with free food (and drinks). Transportation was free, because the Sundance bus/shuttle system functioned fine in town and I found fast, easy rides hitchhiking to and from town in the tourist-friendly area."

  Spain, his partner, is an 11-year Sundance veteran, starting out as a festival volunteer. He's now built up enough contacts to fully wire the fest. All he needed are a few copies of the trailer, and one minute of time for the hand-off. But more on that later.

Niver and Spain spent a lot of time at the "House of Docs" center, a facility inaugurated for 2000 Sundance that offers a community space for documentary makers to meet buyers and programmers, review funding opportunities, and see the latest technology, among other things.

  "The House of Docs was created as a place for documentary filmmakers to gather, hang out, exchange ideas and information - there were a number of helpful seminars - and make connections," Niver said. "Our doc - the story of my father's life, his terminal cancer and his decision to end life on his own terms - caught the interest of a number of cable outlets and potential distributors. I've been busy sending copies and press kits out ever since I returned [two days late, because I couldn't get into RDU due to the storm]."

  The new House of Docs also impressed Spain, the Sundance vet.

  "It was a refreshing new experience for me at the 'new' Sundance," he said. "The House of Docs reminded me of the Sundance of 11 years ago when I first came here. I was able to network within a relatively small group of people dedicated to one purpose - the production and distribution of the documentary. Within the first two days, I felt that the whole journey was worthwhile.

  "I believe that as Sundance grows, it will provide more and more specific arenas like this to help filmmakers realize their goals."

  Live and Let Go, a project that deserves to find an audience, benefited from good karma. The two Jays were at the right place at the right time, and hopefully can capitalize on that.  "Among the contacts I made in Park City were HBO, A&E, CNN, PBS (and POV), Discovery Channel, additional film festivals, funding sources and European television," Jay Niver said. "Even though we were promoting a serious project about my Dad's death, I found the Sundance experience incredibly 'entertaining' and amusing. I'd call it a zoo - something I'm glad to have experienced, but not sure I need on my annual schedule.

  "If these contacts pay off, and gain success for our doc, I'll probably change my tune. One other good thing was the chance to meet other struggling documentary filmmakers. There's a ton of them out there - and some who have even less clue than I do!"

  And what does Spain, the 11-year veteran, feel about the new, expanded, "improved" Sundance?

  "I love Park City anyway, so I'm biased, but all the upstart festivals such as Slamdance, Slamdunk, Digidance, Lapdance, No Dance also provide great opportunities to network," Spain said. "You don't have to have advance tickets for those festivals; even for Slamdance you can get tickets or get in free to most venues. Just hang out, introduce yourself and you'll meet people and get invited to parties. All you have to do to have a great festival experience now is have a place to crash in the Park City area."

All Material Copyright 2001-2003 Live And Let Go Productions, LLC
P.O. Box 50157
Raleigh, NC  27650