PARK CITY — Although the Sundance Film Festival is one of the biggest and most important film festivals in the country, it isn’t only about movies.
In fact, for app developers Devon Smittkamp and Mel Ramirez, this year, the festival is also about death.
"Death happens to everyone," Smittkamp said, "and we wanted to create a platform for people to share advice and other thoughts that will live on even after they die."
Smittkamp and Ramirez are designers of the Legacy App, which allows users to create videos to share with friends and family. The caveat is that people can only view the messages after the person who recorded them has passed away.
The idea may seem morbid to some, but it’s really no different than those who realize they won't be alive for their child’s graduation or wedding day putting pen to paper so their kids will have a message from mom or dad on that special day.
While death is inevitable, the app is an attempt to give people some control over how they are remembered after they pass away.
Remembering the dead is something that has been on actor Carlos Moreno Jr.'s mind. After voicing a role in the Pixar film “Coco,” which is about the power of remembering those who have passed on, Moreno himself lost a loved one.
“My aunt passed away," he said. "She was very sick and wanted help, but all I could do was hold her hand.”
The experience inspired him to write, direct and act in a short film titled “Panacea,” about dying with dignity.
In what Smittkamp described as “divine coincidence,” he, Ramirez and Moreno realized that "Panacea" and the Legacy App were a perfect pairing and decided to premiere the app along with the film during the Latino Filmmakers Forum at Sundance.
During the closing credits of the film, viewers saw Legacy app-created videos from a terminally ill man who had chosen physician-assisted death. One message depicted him telling his friends to travel while they can; another was a shout out to a friend on what would be his 50th birthday.
The app features six ideas on how to share videos: Tell a Story, Thoughts & Ideas, Give Advice, Share a Secret, Live Experience and Future Event. Smittkamp said users control who receives the videos.
“You choose friends to be in your inner circle and outer circle on the app,” he explained. “Then you decide who will receive each video you create and when they’ll be delivered.”
All the videos are encrypted and cannot be viewed before the designated date. Smittkamp said the possibilities for video content are endless.
“You could create messages for your family to view every year for the next 20 years on Christmas,” he said. “It’s taking the instant gratification out of social media.”
The Legacy App will launch in earnest for iOS and Android at the South by Southwest Conference and Festivals in March, but those interested can download the alpha version on Google Play right now.
The Legacy app isn’t the only app of this nature available. Afternote is a free app that does pretty much the same thing and has some great resources on its website describing how each social media network handles people's accounts after they die. The Digital Beyond has an extensive list of online resources available to help people plan what happens to their online life after they die.
But Moreno hopes his film and the app will wake people up.
"It's fascinating to find out what people want to talk about on their death beds," he said. "They say they will miss dancing, the sunshine, the simple things. People should be able to pass on their thoughts about what's important to them and what truly matters before it's too late."
Content advisory: "Panacea" contains strong language and sexual themes.