It’s hard to imagine how buckets of love, tenderness, teaching, magic and messages about some of the realities of dementia care might be packed into a mere twenty-two minutes, but somehow screenwriter and producer Evan Bass Zeisel has done the seemingly impossible in his beautiful short film How You Are to Me.
Zeisel, who also acts in the film opposite his talented real-life wife Miranda Noelle Wilson, was inspired to write the story after having worked for five years on a clinical research project designed to measure the impact of theatre on the quality of life of people who live with dementia in long-term care.
When I interviewed Zeisel, his understanding of dementia impressed me. He has an excellent grasp of how people interact with people who live with Alzheimer disease, what causes responsive behaviour, and of the challenges of being a care partner. Not surprisingly, as an actor, he is most interested in how we relate as care partners.
“Success is in the way we communicate,” he says. “You need to learn a slightly different vocabulary of ways of interacting when engaging people with Alzheimer. If you don’t know how to pivot into a different style of engagement, you’re going to run into walls.”
So true! I experienced exactly that during the decade I cared for Mom. Zeisel has put his knowledge to good use in How You Are to Me, which tells the story of John and Margaret, a fictional married couple, one of whom is struggling with dementia. The film is artfully shot, compelling to watch, and (of course) includes a twist at the end (no spoilers from me though). Zeisel credits the film’s beauty to director Aemilia Scott.
“Our director Aemilia Scott is responsible for a lot of the beauty and depth in the telling of this story,” Zeisel says. “I can’t thank her enough for taking my thoughts and words and bringing John and Margaret to life in such an endearing way through Miranda and me.”
Besides these strengths, one of the things I most appreciate about the film, which Zeisel kindly allowed me to preview, is that it addresses some of the stark reality of living with dementia in the mid “stages,” without falling back on the negative narrative trope, and thus contributing to the stigma often associated with the disease as many other short films and documentaries have done. The joyful moments in How You Are to Me are refreshing, authentic, and skillfully played by Zeisel and Wilson, whose onscreen chemistry is at once heartwarming and heart wrenching.
The whole is further enriched by the fact that Zeisel and director Scott have woven examples of effective care techniques throughout the film, which will, I believe, be an excellent teaching tool once it’s released. What better way to communicate caregiving skills than a charming love story that has you wondering what will happen from one scene to the next?
I’ll be delighted to let you know when and where How You Are to Me will premiere once I have the details. In the meantime, I invite you to follow the film on Twitter, like its Facebook page and get a taste of what’s in store by watching the trailer below: