Award-winning documentarians Steve James, Roger Ross Williams, Megan Mylan and Naomi Boak have all created original short films for “Living With Alzheimers,” an ambitious multi-platform, multi-media project designed to raise awareness about the disease.
Created by bestselling author and Alzheimer’s expert David Shenk in partnership with Cure Alzheimers Fund, “Living With Alzheimers” is funded by MetLife Foundation, which also funded the PBS film “The Forgetting,” inspired by Shenk’s 2001 book of the same name about Alzheimer’s disease. Shenk commissioned the filmmakers and asked them to make short films about the subject. “I wanted to inspire them to make the films that they wanted to make,” Shenk told Indiewire. “I said ‘don’t do this unless you feel it’s going to be a meaningful piece of work.'”
The films are:
A Place Called Pluto, by Academy-Award®-nominated director Steve James (Hoop Dreams, The Interrupters)
De ‘mem’bunce (The Rememberance), by Academy-Award®-winner Roger Ross Williams.
My Little Friends, by Academy-Award®-winner Megan Mylan.
Let the Band Play On, by Emmy award-winner Naomi Boak.
“Living With Alzheimers” licensed the films from the filmmakers, who own the footage. “Part of the pitch to them was, maybe you’re thinking of a bigger project,” explained Shenk. “Think of this as a starter film for a bigger project.”
In fact, James said he could see following up on “A Place Called Pluto” at some point. “There may be a larger film there that could be told. I certainly haven’t ruled that out right now, but I’m swamped with my current projects,” said James told Indiewire. “A feature film that could look at this over the course of time — which is something I’ve done a few of in the past — could be really powerful.” Although James usually works on feature-length projects, he said Shenk’s book “The Forgetting” inspired him to make “A Place Called Pluto.” “The film is between nine and 10 minutes long and yet it tells a complete story — a snapshot of this time and place coping with this illness,” James said. “It’s a satisfying story, a hard story, and a moving one, I hope.”
The films are all available to view for free at the “Living With Alzheimer” web site. Shenk is also developing various events and initiatives, including an annual film contest with a $5,000 grand prize, a new Alzheimer’s Channel featuring user-generated films (“basically a YouTube of Alzheimers content,” according to Shenk), film festival screenings, social media platforms and premieres in New York, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles. As for the films, Shenk said “I set the bar as high as it could possibly be set for my goals for this project. I wanted to recruit four superlative filmmakers to make four amazing films. I’m blown away by the results.”
Find out more about the films and watch them below:
De ‘mem’bunce (The Remembrance)
Directed by Roger Ross Williams
USA / 8 minutes
The Gullah, descendants of slaves residing in the Lowcountry region of South Carolina and Georgia, are a proud people who have historically refused outside help. Overcoming this stigma, Lou Ethel Hill-Ford and her family seek assistance from an innovative Alzheimer’s center in Hilton Head.
A Place Called Pluto
Directed by Steve James
USA / 10 min
Greg O’Brien, long-time Cape Cod reporter and newspaperman, has been diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s. Acting on instinct and journalistic grit, Greg has decided to face down the disease and his imminent decline by writing frankly about the journey.
My Little Friends
Directed by Megan Mylan
USA / 10 min
In a custom-designed facility in Mt. Kisco, New York, a very special program focusing on inter-generational care by bringing elders with dementia together with young children. The kids look right past the dementia, connecting instead with the people who have gotten lost underneath.
Let the Band Play On
Directed by Naomi Boak
USA / 6 min
Twice a month, the dance therapy group Rhythm Break Cares leads a ballroom dancing session at the 80th Street Residence, an assisted living facility for people with dementia in New York City. Residents, health aides and family are all transformed by the power of music and dance.