Houston Matters

How details and memories of loved ones serve as ‘floatation devices’ during a loss

Actor and director Nell Teare talks about her film, “Bolivar,” and how experiencing her own grief made the Houston native even more observant of her loved ones and life around her.

Nell Teare at the beach in a scene from her film, "Bolivar."
Nell Teare at the beach in a scene from her film, “Bolivar.”

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Actor and director Nell Teare grew up in the Houston area, and she and her family often made trips to the beach on Bolivar Peninsula, just up the coast from Galveston.

Teare draws on those memories in her film, called Bolivar.

She says the movie, which she wrote, directed, and stars in, is a love letter to her family — and several of her family members have roles in the flashback sequences in the film, many of which take place at the beach.

Bolivar also deals with grief and how we all process it differently.

Teare plays Maggie, whose mother recently died. Maggie and her family deal with that grief in different ways. Her father is avoiding it. Her brother is burying it in drug use. And Maggie is dwelling on home videos and memories from a childhood summer at the beach.

Dealing with the loss of her mother, Maggie, Nell Teare’s character in the film “Bolivar,” finds herself frequently revisiting memories and home movies of her childhood visits to the beach on Bolivar Peninsula.

Teare, whose mother died in 2011, tells Houston Matters producer Michael Hagerty it was easy to draw on her own experience and conjure those images because she says the way she experiences life is cinematic.

“I’m a watcher,” she said. “Some people would say I’m a starer.”

She says that means she likes to observantly savor details from moments in life and from loved ones, like how her mother’s hands looked or the way her father’s car smelled. Those tidbits are invaluable in the grieving process.

“They’re like the floatation devices during any loss,” Teare said. “You replay these things over and over.”

The film is loosely based on some of Teare’s own experience after her mother died in 2011. Then, as the film was nearing completion, her father passed away. She says that only heightened her sensitivity to those moments.

“I can conjure the light in the room the morning he passed,” Teare said. “I can think of all of the people sitting next to his bed and smiling at him and his hands. It focused me, I guess. And it was also really hard.”

Nell Teare’s niece is one of several family members with roles in the beach flashback scenes in “Bolivar.”

The film simultaneously depicts that phenomenon of savoring simple details and memories from family life and accomplishes it in a meta sort of way. That’s because Teare’s sister, her brother, and his two children have roles in the flashback scenes.

Teare says her mother, who was a performer on stage and screen, always dreamed that her family would someday collaborate on some sort of creative endeavor.

“So, ten years after she died, I was able to sort of make that come true posthumously for her, which I know she would have just loved,” Teare said.

Bolivar is available now on a number of streaming platforms.