Around town: Documentary embraces death

FINAL DAYS: Prior to his death on April 2, 2021, Ethan Sisser, left, had one wish: to film his final weeks of life. That wish has since become the documentary The Last Ecstatic Days. Also featured is Dr. Aditi Sethi. Photo courtesy of The Last Ecstatic Days production

A film documenting the death journey of Ethan Sisser, a young man with terminal brain cancer who spent his last days in Asheville in 2021 and wished to share his story with the world, will screen Thursday, Feb. 29, 7 p.m., at the White Horse Black Mountain community arts center. For the first time, the composer, Robert Chamberlain, will play a live score during the film The Last Ecstatic Days.

Chamberlain sat alongside film director Scott Kirschenbaum and the death care team during Sisser’s final two weeks.

“The pieces I composed for the film all started with the breath. Listening to how his breath changed during the dying process was a singularly unique source of inspiration,” Chamberlain says, noting how fortunate he was to be invited to record sound during that time.

Sisser had become a viral sensation on social media for documenting his brain cancer experience. Dr. Aditi Sethi, a hospice doctor in Asheville, was inspired by Sisser’s journey and offered to bring him to Asheville to care for him in his last weeks.

“His one dying wish was to film his last weeks so that he could help other people around the world become more comfortable with this experience of dying,” says Kirschenbaum. The hospice wouldn’t allow the filming, but a friend of Dr. Sethi, Nathan Taylor, opened his home to Sisser. There, Sisser spent his final days receiving free palliative care from individuals in Asheville’s “death care world.”

Kirschenbaum, whom Dr. Sethi recommended for the job based on his previous documentary work, says the story especially resonated with him because he was the same age as Sisser at the time. He says before he began working with Sisser, he was afraid of death. “We [shouldn’t] wait until we’re dying or on our deathbed to confront this topic — that we need to embrace death as a part of life and that there’s so much warmth in that space, if we can reframe this conversation, because obviously, that is considered taboo in our country, in our culture.”

The film inspired Dr. Sethi to launch the Center for Conscious Living and Dying, a Swannanoa-based nonprofit that offers free death care to the community.

“What I realized … is that the practice of building community is simple,” says Kirschenbaum. “It starts with taking care of the dying. And that’s what this nonprofit is really demonstrating as it grows and expands around Asheville and around the country.”

One of the most impactful moments Kirschenbaum witnessed while filming was when Dr. Sethi brought Sisser’s divorced parents to his bedside. She brought their hands together above his chest.

“That’s perhaps the first time they’ve touched in years, and they held each other’s hands while he shared his final words, which were effectively: ‘Maybe the next practice is to be present and let go,’” Kirschenbaum says.

The film premiered at the Santa Fe Film Festival and will be making several more screening stops. It will be available for streaming beginning Tuesday, April 2, to honor the anniversary of Sisser’s death.

Dr. Sethi founded the nonprofit and will give a TEDx talk in March. Kirschenbaum, who is also a professor at Warren Wilson College, will take part in a conversation there, presented by the Institute for Psychedelics & Death, on Monday, March 4.

White Horse Black Mountain is at 105 Montreat Road, Black Mountain. Tickets to the screening are $15. To purchase, visit

Connie Bostic retrospective

A retrospective of the works of the late Connie Bostic, who died Jan. 14, will be held at UNC Asheville’s Tucker Cooke Gallery in Owen Hall. The exhibit, curated by Arnold Wengrow, opened Feb. 23 and will continue through Friday, March 29.

Bostic took leadership roles in local arts organizations and participated in what she referred to as “sociopolitical art actions.” She depicted scenes from her own life as well as art reflecting empathy for people struggling in society.

UNCA’s Owen Hall is at 100 Theatre Lane. Learn more at

Avocado ink making

The co-founder and curator of Art Garden AVL, Annie Kyla Bennett (who uses they/them pronouns), will host their first plant pigment workshop since 2020, focusing on avocado ink. The 2 1/2-hour workshop will take place Saturday, March 2, noon-2:30 p.m., and will teach methods that can be replicated at home with a variety of plants. Participants will learn how to brew a pink ink using avocado peels and pits, discuss how to adjust the color and other qualities of the ink, and explore ways to use it for painting and drawing with various tools.

“Part of the reason I love the avocado so much is because it’s so renewable — you just do it with the waste from the vegetable, or fruit, however you want to see it,” Bennett says.

Additional artist-made inks will be available for experimentation, including marigold, goldenrod, black walnut, rose and more.

The Canopy at Art Garden is at 191 Lyman St #320. Tickets are $55. To register visit

Plein-air watercolor exhibit

Tyger Tyger Gallery will present The Soil’s Gaze, an exhibition of watercolors by Chris Jehly, Friday, March 1-Sunday, April 14, with an opening reception 6-8 p.m.

Jehly is a plein-air painter, taking his artistic endeavors outside to let his natural surroundings inspire him — from secluded hiking destinations in the Blue Ridge Mountains to the view from his grandmother’s front yard.

“These works traverse notions of what it means to be accurate, what can be abstracted. … [They plumb] the authenticity of experience,” Jehly explains in a press release. “The paintings aren’t necessarily a direct representation of the visual landscape, but rather incorporate the sounds of the environment, insects, my own body; the smells and changes in temperature and air pressure; the sense that I am a cell within a larger, living organism.”

Tyger Tyger Gallery is at 191 Lyman St. #144. For information visit

Mars Hill presents “A…My Name is Alice”

Mars Hill University’s theater arts department will present A…My Name is Alice Thursday, Feb. 29-Saturday, March 2, 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, March 3, 2:30 p.m., in the Owen Theatre on campus.

Written by Joan Micklin Silver and Julianne Boyd, A…My Name Is Alice is a “musical revue that celebrates the strength, humor and complexity of women’s experiences. Through a series of witty and poignant songs and sketches, the show explores a wide range of topics, from love and friendship to career aspirations and societal expectations,” according to a press release.

All ages are welcome, but the show is recommended for ages 13 and older due to adult content and language. Tickets are $25 for general admission and free for Mars Hill University students and staff with identification.

Owen Theatre is at 44 College St., Mars Hill. To purchase tickets visit, or contact the box office at 828-689-1377 or for more information.

MLK Association announces John Lewis Awards

The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Association of Asheville and Buncombe County’s Community Outreach Providing Empowerment Committee honored the 2024 recipients of its John Lewis Award at an award ceremony at Black Wall Street AVL on Feb. 20.

The award honors men in the community who have “fostered a culture of inclusion in the Asheville community; worked to achieve a just society for the disadvantaged; exemplified a nonviolent philosophy in pursuit of a better life for nonmajority people; and inspired direct action in the cause of social justice,” according to the association’s website.

The 2024 John Lewis Award recipients are DeWayne Barton, founder of Hood Huggers International; Spencer Hardaway, pastor at Rock Hill Baptist Church; Calvin Hill, chief District Court judge; and Keynon Lake, founder of the nonprofit My Daddy Taught Me That.

For information visit

Monument honors crew of sunken gunboat

Representatives from the N.C. Submarine Museum Foundation and the City of Asheville will dedicate a monument to the crew of the USS Asheville Patrol Gunboat No. 21, which sank during World War II.

The public is welcome to attend the monument’s unveiling on Sunday, March 3, 2 p.m., at Riverside Cemetary. Signage will direct people to the location of the ceremony.

The original USS Asheville PG-21 was attacked in an encounter with three Japanese warships on March 3, 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The outgunned Asheville sank, and 166 crew members were lost. The lone survivor, 18-year-old Fred L. Brown, was taken prisoner by the Japanese.

“This is not a Navy ceremony — we want this to feel like an Asheville city ceremony,” says Christopher Perrien, director of the N.C. Submarine Museum, who explains that there has always been a USS Asheville in Navy service because it is important to Navy history. “We’re here to properly commemorate the young men who died that day. And we want to make other people of the city aware [that], among Asheville’s many, many interesting and unique talents and claims to fame, it also has a very famous Navy tradition.”

In February, the city officially declared March 3 USS Asheville Day.

Riverside Cemetery is at 53 Birch St. For information visit


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