We live in a society that doesn’t want to talk about death. But, for Galveston mortician Dale Carter, death is a huge part of his life.
His story is tracked over about a decade in the new documentary “Song of the Cicada,” co-directed by cousins Aaron and Robert Weiss.
Robert Weiss says he met Carter at a Halloween party 12 or 13 years ago.
“He invited me to the embalming studio that very night where I pretty much saw a complete embalming,” he said. “And it changed me, I think, for the good.”
Robert immediately told his cousin Aaron about the experience and suggested they start filming.
“We spent about a day and a half with Dale one weekend and captured some amazing content that we turned into a 12-minute film, and we started showing people and they were just kind of amazed by the character and the content,” Aaron Weiss said.
Everyone wanted more.
“So fast forward a couple of years, we go down there a couple of times to spend time with him every year,” Aaron Weiss said.
The cousins said that every time they thought perhaps they had enough content and could wrap up filming, something would happen in Dale Carter’s life.
“That even happened up until a few years ago when COVID happened,” Robert Weiss said. “And we said, ‘We have to show what happens to a mortician during COVID.’ I mean, this is just such a unique thing, because morticians throughout history have dealt with plagues and other things quite similar to COVID. And how is that handled today? But we could have never imagined what would unfold. We hope that we did as much justice to the events that happened as possible.”
The filmmakers said making the film also changed them.
“I don’t know if there’s any way to actually prepare yourself for actually going behind, as Dale calls it, ‘the formaldehyde curtain’ and seeing that process,” Robert Weiss said. “I mean, it is really unique. It’s really interesting. But it’s also helped me heal in so many ways just by seeing the process and actually being able to deal with deaths in the family that have come up since my knowing Dale.”
“It was really encouraging to see the process and understand that there’s people who really care, who are behind the scenes,” Aaron Weiss said. “And, you know, Dale shows up to help a family and is there 100% and really has given his life and career to be there for families in need.”
While mortician Dale Carter – with his unique sensibilities and penchant for pretty and strange things – is the star of the film, the backdrop of Galveston is also integral.
“There’s obviously the tourist side of things, but there’s this darker, historic feeling when you get there,” Aaron Weiss said. “And a lot of that is from the 1900 storm that hit and decimated most of the city and killed thousands of people … it’s just a really fascinating place.”
“Song of the Cicada” is screening at the Austin Film Festival and the Lone Star Film Festival in Fort Worth. And wondering about that film title?
“Well, I’ve always loved the idea of having a phrase as a title that’s not actually referenced in the film,” Robert Weiss said. “We actually asked Dale, ‘What would you call your film?’ And he said, ‘Song of the Cicada’… And the more Aaron and I thought about it, the more we realized that it’s perfect. You know, the cicada buries itself; it comes back out of the ground and it resurrects itself. And it has a song that’s not necessarily beautiful – it’s noisy, it’s a little bit unnerving. And yet it’s something that we expect to hear in the evening. So it is just something that just truly resonated with us, and we really just enjoyed it.”