What these ashes wanted is one of those films that forces you to rethink the medium. There are pictures, yes, and movement, light and sound. There is however, no narrative, and yet there is emotion. “What these ashes wanted” is the result of several years of hard work coming to terms with the traces and fragments of a life that has ended but whose presence persists. The film draws on images and sounds gathered over the course of Hoffman's relationship with Marian McMahon, from their early meetings in the mid-eighties to her unexpected death from cancer and beyond. The three parts of the film - He Always Thought They Would Grow Old Together, Four Shadows, and 17 - form a rich combination of hand-processed film, video diaries, sound recordings from daily life, and epistolary voice-over.
“…Hoffman arranges the jagged bits of life he shared with writer Marian McMahon. Her early death in 1996 provoked this essay on mortality. Hoffman’s goal: ‘to illuminate the conditions of her death…the mystery of her life and the reason why, at the instant of her passage, I felt peace with her leaving…a feeling I no longer hold.’ Using painterly swatches of sunflowers, handprocessed film, found sound recordings, the ‘antiseptic fictions’ of doctors and other mortal icons, Hoffman takes us on journeys to London, Helsinki and Egypt. Pondering morbidity in its many forms, Hoffman discloses an early photographic assignment involving his deceased grand-father, a failed suicide, and his own personal numerology of death centering on the number 17. Through these and other memories, he develops a soul-searching vocabulary of love for one whose journey continues into the beyond. ‘If you had to make up your own ritual for death, what would it be? Would it be private or shared?’ asked his partner, Marian. Hoffman’s answer is this beautiful document.” - San Francisco International Film Festival Program Guide 2002
“What these ashes wanted (2001) places flesh on the poet Ann Carson’s words ‘…death lines every moment of ordinary time.’ With this work Hoffman resides in an acutely intimate time, a daily practise of loss lived precariously between the terror of psychic disintegration and the provisional solace taken through public rituals of mourning. ‘What these ashes wanted’ is not a story of surviving death, but rather, of living death through a heightening of the quotidian moments of every day experience.” - Images Festival of Independent Film & Video, Toronto 2001