Jacqueline "Jackie" Jencquel was a notable activist for assisted death, making international headlines for her stance on right-to-die issues and often accompanied people to Switzerland, where assisted dying is legal.
In the film Jackie the Wolf (part of Toronto's Hot Docs festival), her son Tuki Jencquel documents and shares unconventional conversations with his mom, leading up to her final words.
Jencquel had actually been filming his mother for many years, but the intention initially was never to make a documentary.
“I was filming casual moments, like the way you film anyone in your family just to have your own personal memory,” Jencquel told Yahoo Canada. “It wasn't always with the idea that I would make a film.”
“She started being approached and sort of flirting with other filmmakers when I sort of realized, if someone's going to make this film about her, I want it to be me. I sort of then took it more seriously to actually not make it so casual, but actually think of it as a film. ... It became more a film about the two of us and also our relationship. ... She was very involved, it was more like we were making the film together.”
Jackie is absolutely compelling in Jackie the Wolf. She's very much an open book, no topic is too taboo for her, from death to sex. But as the film progresses, you can't help but feel attached to her spirit.
“Since I was little, there were no taboos,” Jencquel said. “I remember growing up and my mom would speak to me like an adult about very important subjects, or about things that were taboo for my friends and their parents.”
“She just believed that you should be able to talk about everything and that's how we grew up, me and my brothers. When we were teenagers my friends loved ... talking to my mom. They could talk about everything with her."
Jackie died in March 2022. While her son didn't capture her final moments, Jackie the Wolf concludes with images of her empty apartment in France. It’s a moving, visual indication of the end her life.
“The night before when she did it, she had ordered a bottle of vodka and foie gras,” Jencquel revealed. “When they found her there was an envelope with a note, and there was the invoice for the vodka and foie gras, and 50 euros for me or someone to go and pay it.”
“So what I did is, I had all her friends over in her place. … We played her music and I gave everyone vodka and foie gras who came in, so it was sort of a way to remember her in a more cheerful way.”
'I was hoping my mom would not die'
While Jackie's conversations in the film largely point to the activist certainly moving towards assisted death, her son still hoped that he wouldn't have to think about how to include her death in the documentary.
“I was hoping I would not have not do it, because I was hoping my mom would not die,” Jencquel said. “Actually, when I started editing, it looked more like the film was going to have a different ending.”
“On a cognitive level I was like, she's probably going to do it sometime and this is going to be real. She's serious about it. On an emotional level, I was sort of more like, this is my mom, she's never going to die. … She's my mom. She's going to be there.”
Still to this day, the filmmaker questions his decision to chronicle this particular journey his mother was on.
“I think, in a way, what helped me … was the fact that my mom wanted to be a part of this,” Jencquel said. “She was very active with the filmmaking and if I hadn't done it, someone else would have done it."
"So in a way, that's what makes me feel OK. Also, because we had this very open relationship where there were no taboos, I feel like, OK this … justifies that I can share this with other people.”
For anyone who does watch Jackie the Wolf, Jencquel hopes that people "feel like it's OK to speak about uncomfortable issues with people you love."
“I've seen a lot of people that approached my mom and who wanted to go, … who didn't have anyone in their family they could speak to about it,” he said. “These people, they would still go, but it would be very lonely for them."
"So I do hope that this is something people take away. Not so much whether people think it’s OK, it’s right or it’s wrong. People will look at it through their own moral lens and judge it either way, and the film isn’t meant to to make people change their opinion on assisted suicide. It was more like, it’s OK to speak about it.”
The Hot Docs festival in Toronto runs from April 27 to May 7. The next in-person screening of Jackie the Wolf is on May 7. The film is also available for Canadians to stream through the Hot Docs platform.