Exploring dementia through film


By Rosemary Westwell | Friday 29 November 2013

Exploring Dementia through Film, held in Cambridge in October, was an event hosted by Alzheimer’s Research UK supporter and local filmmaker James Murray-White. It aimed to showcase a variety of films about dementia and raise awareness through the eyes of filmmakers in a broad range of styles.

Eight films provided insight into the aspects of the condition using different themes and storytelling techniques.

Jamie and Vicky’s story – Alzheimer’s Research 2013

As a starter to the evening, this was a moving, natural introduction to a charming couple who were going through the impact a dementia diagnosis had on both of them The couple spoke honestly about the changes that were occurring, and it was a touching tribute to their strength as a team.

Going Home – Stuart Ramsey and Ben Thompson (Vantage Films 2012)

This short film told the story of Stanley; busying himself by setting off for an ordinary day at work. People’s response towards him added to his confusion and through a series of flashbacks, it became clear that he had escaped from his care home and was acting out the ritual he had observed for years as a young breadwinner for his family. The film addressed the very real feelings of stigma felt by so many.

This May Just Drive us Crazy – Lee Pearse (2013)

Lee (who was in the audience and part of the later discussion panel) and his brother talked in the film about their mother who had been diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia and their reaction. Set by the sea for some striking landscape shots, the brothers’ discussed the struggles they’d experienced openly and the changes that had occurred in their mum.

Keeping Mum – James Murray-White (2012)

Our host for the evening’s film illustrated his relationship with his mother, filmed over a five-year period, through her dementia diagnosis. The film showed his mum from the point of diagnosis and how it was affecting them both. The original score, composed by Knud Stewe was very powerful.

Kindred – Isabelle Rose Neill/Stephen J. Dunn

This was a humorous and heart-warming short film on Lilly Mitchell. It was a day in the life of recently diagnosed Lilly, where she discussed her life, family, health and faith, all with a loving and wonderful personality that came alive.

Lost – Natalie Morrell (2013)

A stop-motion animation by Natalie (who was in the audience for the evening) captured her nan who has dementia and goes through activities that are constant and repetitive. The use of stop motion really emphasised the condition, making the repetitive symptoms of the condition very striking, with a dialogue of her family discussing her health candidly.

The Diseased Other – Peter Gordon Omphalos Films

This more experimental film really brought home the prevalence of dementia in the UK and the need to remove the stigma that so many people feel.

Look Up – Liz Banks (2012)

Look Up was an inspired film that expressed peaceful acceptance of the inevitable loss of someone close. Through limited dialogue and abstract imagery, Liz expressed a comfort in the constancy of the sky and nature’s beauty.

Panel discussion

The panel discussion after the screening was chaired by Tim Parry and featured:

  • James Murray-White, Host and Director of Keeping Mum
  • Dr Tim Rittman, University of Cambridge
  • Lee Pearse, Director of This May Just Drive us Crazy
  • Dr Michael Hornberger, University of Cambridge.

The Q&As discussed the wide variety of subjects covered in the films, including a discussion on the stigma around people with dementia, advice if you’re a struggling carer and words on the arts and how it can be involved in the fight against dementia.

James recently organised a similar event in Bristol, and hopes to continue to host events across the UK, showcasing the work of Directors who are making films related to dementia.

I’m sure there are audiences across the UK who would be interested in similar type evenings in their area. If you’re interested in holding a similar type event in your local space, contact James Murray-White for more information.

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About the author

Rosemary Westwell

Rosemary Westwell is a teacher and writer living in Cambridgeshire UK. Publications include books on language teaching and learning and an autobiographical novel: ‘John, Dementia and Me’. She directs a ladies’ choir ‘The Isle Singers’. Her husband is in a care home and they have two daughters and six grandchildren.