A dream can’t kill you. Or at least that’s what Amy Hardie, Scottish director of “The Edge of Dreaming,” believed. Yet her 48th year brought her to death’s door, and she had been warned in a dream that it would happen. Knowing that she’s alive today, and that she’ll attend The DocYard event this Tuesday at the Brattle Theatre, isn’t a spoiler. Deeply personal, Hardie’s documentary explores provocative, even controversial questions about the power of subconscious messages.
“The Edge of Dreaming,” which has received praise from some of Europe’s top film festivals, was broadcast in August on POV, and is now touring nationally. The idea for the documentary began when Hardie, primarily a maker of straightforward science films who lives in the Scottish countryside, says she was awakened one night by a dream that her horse died, and she went outside in the night to find that the animal really had expired. Next, a deceased partner, the father of her oldest child, told her in a dream that she was going to die during her 48th year. As she entered that year, oddly enough, in the middle of making a film about the process of dying, she began having serious health problems. Eventually, Hardie realized she didn’t know anyone else having a more intense experience with death.
Still, she was reluctant to be the main character in her own film until she thought, “When have I seen a woman in her late 40s and really got inside her consciousness?” She says she turned the camera on herself and her family, capturing the simple beauty of everyday life, in part because if she died her kids would appreciate the archive. Filming wasn’t easy, especially as her lungs began to close down for reasons doctors struggled to explain. “The Edge of Dreaming” plays like fiction, but seeks credibility through experts in neuroscience, psychology, and the death process.
Pivotal to Hardie’s journey is questioning whether the death sentence in her dream is literal, like the death of her horse, or something more figurative, and if she has power to control her destiny. Are her deteriorating lungs simply a self-fulfilling prophecy? She relentlessly pursues resolution, experimenting finally with a shamanic intervention to reprogram her brainwaves toward a different fate. People have pressed her for answers on why or how this worked and she answers with honesty: “I don’t know.” But she lived, and now into her fifties, she says she’s healthy.
Hardie crossed a line with this film. Her career making science documentaries relied on skepticism, scrutinizing her favorite theories, and believing in multiple determinants of any one outcome. She still believes in that. What’s added, she explains, is that “I now trust a whole part of my brain that knows when it’s in communication with an animal or the earth. And I accept that I can have contact because I’m made of the same chemical constituents.”
Hardie will be on hand to answer questions following the DocYard screening, cosponsored by Women in Film and Video and the upcoming Salem Film Festival. Her film charts her journey to overcome fear of life and death, a topic she views as accessible to all viewers. “There’s room in the film for the audience,” she says. “When they take the film on their own journey in a shared community it’s a very exciting atmosphere.”
– Danielle Connor, 2011