Where There’s Smoke at COMET medical conference

Columbia DSL director Lance Weiler and Dr. Deborah Starr of Columbia University’s Department of Narrative Medicine jointly presented “Where There’s Smoke” at the 2021 edition of the University of Insubria’s COMET a conference on communication, medicine and ethics.

From the abstract…

Storytelling, Grief, and Memory

“Columbia University School of the Arts’ Digital Storytelling Lab, in collaboration with Columbia’s Department of Narrative Medicine, developed “Where There’s Smoke,” a story and grief ritual that mixes interactive documentary, immersive theatre and online collaboration to invite healthcare providers and others into resonant conversations about life, loss and memory, and to imagine how stories can be used to create empathetic healing spaces. Robert Weiler, father of storytelling pioneer Lance Weiler, was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer and the profound lack of empathy in his care and ensuing grief for the family, led Lance to realize that telling a straightforward story wasn’t enough and so he created “Where There’s Smoke”. “Where There’s Smoke” premiered at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival where it was hailed as an “absolute can’t miss” (Backstage), but when COVID-19 submerged the world in loss, uncertainty and isolation, Lance chose to reimagine the piece as an online experience. He further combined the piece with protocols of Narrative Medicine as provided by Deborah Starr, Ph.D. The piece traces a heartbreaking journey through end-of-life care and grief, fully embracing the aesthetic of grief as nonlinear and immersive; grief as an escape room with no escape. Participants sift through artwork, videos, and conversations and are provided with immersive moments for individuals, pairs/groups to have opportunities of self-revelation and unexpected shared intimacy. This is a deeply personal yet universally relevant narrative, which gradually reveals itself to be something more…the possibility of immersive storytelling to create space for empathetic healing, grieving, and connecting.”