close icon

Production   /  Charu Menon

By the River

By the River is a short documentary exploring the essence of hotels in the holy city of Varanasi where people go to die


Impact areas





  • DIRECTOR Daniel Braga Ulvestad

  • PRODUCER Charu Menon



By the River is a documentary exploring the essence of Mumukshu Bhawan and Mukti Bhawan, hotels in the holy city of Varanasi, India where people of strong faith go to die. Varanasi is a city in the northern India regarded as the spiritual capital. Hindu pilgrims believe that if they breathe their last breath here, by natural means, they will break the cycle of rebirth and reach Nirvana. Several ‘Death Hotels’ in the city are specifically accomodating the people arriving with a death wish. Many elders check in when they feel the end is near, but also younger people - some having waited for as long as 40 years for their salvation.When passed away, the bodies are cremated in a religious ceremony by the river of Ganges. In our film, we’re taken from the busy streets of Varanasi through the gates of Mumukshu Bhawan, where we establish a tranquil, meditative atmosphere - like we’re entering sacred ground. With a humanizing approach in mind, we relay all information through our subjects.

Support this project

20.50% funded
  • $50,000.00

  • $10,250.00

  • August 2019

  • 2

Minimum amount is $ Maximum amount is $





Harriet McKern $50.00
Previous donations 2 donors $10,200.00

Issue Summary

A short summary of the issue the documentary is addressing

To welcome and celebrate death is such an abstract concept for western societies where death is very much feared and taboo. If you tell a westerner about the concept of Varanasi and the people literally waiting to die there, it would very likely, consciously or subconsciously, be dismissed as something alien. It's easy to forget that they are fellow human beings, only with a very different outlook on life and death. Our goal is to present these people to the world in an effort to understand them - humanize them - and by the end of the film, demystify death. All this on a backdrop of Hinduism, the death hotel, and Varanasi.


What is the impact vision statement of the documentary?

To change the conversation around death; to encourage people to acknowledge their mortality and accept death rather than live in fear and doubt; to find comfort in the way death is accepted by people in another part of the world.


What outcomes does the project hope to achieve from making this documentary?

Our aim is to wrap this story in a beautiful, cinematic, and potentially touching experience while letting people in on a very alternative outlook on life. We hope to create a film that will resist the urge to offer a reductive, exotic view of India but instead focus on a nuanced, complex human story on a subject that is so universally relatable: death. We hope to chronicle the stories of these people in a way that is accessible and humane to offer a alternate perspective to how to perceive death and grief. We'd like to get our viewers thinking about what it means to have a happy death.


How will this documentary achieve its outcomes?

We are in talks with Karuna Hospice in Queensland as well as Groundswell projects in Sydney to conduct events and screen the film to people in palliative care and their carers who are most in need of a conversation around the topic. Broadcast on ABC's Compass and NHK Japan will also widen the reach and help begin a conversation.


How will partnerships with this project help inform the project development?

During pre-production, we consulted with Groundswell as well as Jane Tewson, Author of Dying to know - A guide to death for everyone alive and a few other Death experts before shaping the narrative of the film.

Audience Engagement and Social Impact

What actions does this project hope for its viewers after seeing this film?

Have open dialogue about accepting death

Measurement and Evaluation

What is the projects indicators for success?

Creating a cultural shift in the way people respond to death is the only way to achieve impact!