You can’t take it with you

Boulder International Film Festival hosts Colorado premiere of death-with-dignity doc ‘Jack Has a Plan’

An inoperable brain tumor led Jack Tuller (left) to document his quest to die on his own terms. Photo by Bradley Berman.

Jack Tuller is terminal. It’s a brain tumor that’ll do it, one he’s had since the early 1990s. Back then, the doctors gave Jack six months to live. But after a successful surgery removed a good chunk of the tumor, he got all six months plus two decades. And he made the most of them: He got married, built a sizeable collection of close friends, reconnected with his estranged father, even developed a sound theory about pies — pecan is polarizing, cherry can be hit or miss, apple is a safe bet. 

But now the tumor is back with a vengeance. Surgery is out of the question, the seizures are getting worse, and the symptoms are becoming less manageable. Jack has decided the time has come. He wants to die with dignity on the day and time of his choosing after a going-away party. Jack’s closest friends and loved ones want him to live. To fight until the bitter end. But that’s the sort of thing healthy people believe. Jack knows better.

Death with dignity is one of those touchy subjects that can really divide a room — probably because those either for or against it can still see the logic on the other side. And that divide is very much on display in Jack Has a Plan, which will have its Colorado premiere at the Boulder International Film Festival (BIFF) on Saturday, March 4.

Directed by documentarian Bradley Berman, Jack Has a Plan functions like a diary of Jack’s last days. Jack generated the idea of the doc as his final act of creation. It took some doing to convince Berman to take up the project — the two men are close, Jack was best man at Berman’s wedding — but Berman can’t seem to say no to his friend forever. Especially since it’ll allow him the chance to spend more time with Jack, maybe even talk him out of his terminal wishes. 

Berman isn’t alone in not being ready to say goodbye. A lot of Jack’s friends aren’t either. Same goes for Jack’s wife, Jennifer, but she is about as supportive as one can be in a situation like this. Probably because while Jack’s friends only see him in more or less good health and spirits, Jennifer sees Jack all the time. She knows how dark it can get.

But that isn’t to say Jack Has a Plan is a dark movie. In truth, the film is about as uplifting as you can get with a premise like this. Almost all of that is thanks to Jack, whose clear-headed approach to the end brings opportunities for reconciliation and realization. It’s the kind of movie you will carry with you long after leaving the theater. 

Thankfully, director Berman will be on hand following the March 4 screening to help work through it with a BIFF talkback co-presented by American Clinicians Academy on Medical Aid in Dying. 

ON SCREEN: Jack Has a Plan. Boulder International Film Festival, 4 p.m., Saturday, March 4; 1 p.m., Sunday, March 5, Century Boulder, 1700 29th St. Info and tickets here.


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