Moving past her pain

When Laguna Beach filmmaker Christine Fugate saw Donna Hilbert read her poems “In Quintana Roo" and “Grief Becomes Me" in 2004, she felt inspired to make a film about the author, who transformed her grief into hope.

Hilbert’s husband, Larry, was killed by a drunken driver on an early-morning bicycle ride in 1998.

“When I heard her speak, I could just see the images of her poetry in my mind," Fugate said. “At that moment, I thought, ‘Wow, I want to take her poems and turn them into movies.’

“I was also grieving over the recent loss of my grandmother and two aunts, which further inspired me to do this project."


She teamed with award-winning filmmakers, including Kate Amend (“Into the Arms of Strangers"), Sandra Chandler (“Living Dolls") and Midge Costin (“Armageddon") with whom she worked for four years on the project. She co-produced the film with husband, Jeff Jacobs.

The short documentary film, “Grief Becomes Me: A Love Story," will premiere at 7 p.m. Oct. 15 at the Laguna Beach Woman’s Club. The screening will follow a cocktail party with wine and cheese, and will precede presentations and a question-and-answer session with both Fugate and Hilbert.

Fugate, who is nationally known for works such as “The Girl Next Door," “Mother Love" and “The Southern Sex," said she chose the venue because it seemed an appropriate fit for her genre about women’s lives.

The theme of the film, which follows Hilbert over a two-year period and alternates personal interviews with short stories narrated by her poetry, is that there is life after death, for the living.


“It’s important to know that there is hope and we can love again," Fugate said.

In the film, Hilbert explains the immense fear she develops of again being happy, worried she’ll lose the other people in her life that she loves. Through her writing and making of the film, she learns to overcome that fear while conveying that “love is a decision," and we can choose it.

The newfound happiness is evident on the expression on her face as the film rolls on.

Fugate said the project also helped to heal her own grief over the loss of her family members.

“The poems are just so inspiring," she said. “I cried a lot while editing this film, which helped me work through my grief."

The film is dedicated to the memory of her grandmother and two aunts.

Hilbert, known for works including “Women Who Make Money and the Men Who Love Them," “Deep Red" and “Traveler in Paradise," has since written “The Green Season," a book about renewal, and was published last year. Fugate lives in Laguna Beach with her husband and children, and teaches a class in directing and production at the Dodge School of Film and Television at Chapman University.

The premiere is open to the public, with a suggested donation of $15. For more information about the film, visit