Living With Alzheimer’s:
A Place Called Pluto
More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s or a related dementia – roughly 35 million worldwide. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. and the only one of those six still on the rise. While scientists work feverishly to stop it, there is much to be done for families right now. With funding from MetLife Foundation and in partnership with Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, four world-class filmmakers were recruited to bring us true-life stories about how individuals and families cope.
Alzheimer’s is an insidious disease that slowly unravels the mind and the self. It shakes families to the core, and forces them to adapt in smart and meaningful ways. These four short documentary films—one of them produced by legendary filmmaker Steve James about Greg O’Brien’s Journey (A Place Called Pluto)—explore that process.
The project was conceived as a way to bring the hard-won insight of experienced Alzheimer’s families to those newly confronted by the sting of diagnosis. Films seemed an ideal medium: A great documentary filmmaker can move us and educate us at the same time. My mission was to recruit four world-class filmmakers to wander into this strange and complex landscape, and bring back rich stories of adaptation and perseverance. I needed documentarians with deep empathy who aren’t afraid to take risks; artists worthy of the profound depths of this terrible disease.
I’m so proud that I got exactly the filmmakers I was looking for:
STEVE JAMES is the legendary director of “Hoop Dreams,” which Roger Ebert called the best film of the entire 1990s decade. He’s won just about every award there is. He’s skilled, sensitive, curious, and a delight to work with. He became fascinated by the idea of giving a voice to someone in the early stages of the disease. His film, “A Place Called Pluto,” is masterful.
ROGER ROSS WILLIAMS won an Oscar for a previous film, “Music by Prudence.” His idea was to explore how this thieving disease affects a culture that itself has been historically dispossessed – the Gullah of South Carolina. Roger was finishing an important film on Uganda when we met, but took considerable time out to shoot and edit his amazing short, “De ‘mem’bunce.”
MEGAN MYLAN is also an Oscar-winning director – for her film “Smile Pinki.” After considerable research, she became fascinated by the intergenerational approach, where seniors with dementia are paired with young children. When done expertly, as in My Second Home in Mt. Kisco, New York, it’s a win-win situation. Children get nurturance and assistance; dementia patients find solace in companionship and satisfaction in making a substantial contribution to a community.
NAOMI BOAK, the only one of the four to work previously in the Alzheimer’s world, is the Emmy-winning producer of “The Forgetting,” a PBS film based on my book of the same name. Her commitment to exploring this disease in smart and brave ways is unmatched. And her “Let the Band Play On,” is a true gem of a film that shows how dementia patients can still find warmth and even joy.
Generous funding for this project comes from MetLife Foundation, which has been supporting Alzheimer’s research and advocacy for more than twenty-five years. MetLife Foundation also funded our PBS film “The Forgetting” and the animated short-film series, “A Quick Look at Alzheimer’s.” I’m very grateful for their continued support. I’m also so appreciative of my fantastic administrative partner, Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, a non-profit dedicated to supporting innovative research and stopping the disease as soon as possible. It’s been my honor to serve as their Senior Advisor since 2011. Learn more about Cure Alzheimer’s Fund here.
If dementia care were a country, it would have the 18th largest economy. If it were a company, it would be the biggest in the world. A new case of Alzheimer’s emerges every four seconds. The needs of this community are many and everyone can help in some way. We need more artists, philanthropists, teachers, scientists, doctors, and a whole network of summer lemonade stands. The overwhelming costs are now upon us, and it is our task to both manage and combat it humanely.
If your own family is struggling with the disease, my hope is that you will be educated and comforted by these films. If you are not yet facing this disease directly, perhaps they will inspire you to get involved in some way.
I am grateful to our four extraordinary directors, and could not be more proud of this series. If the films resonate with you too, please share them with others.
Series Creator and Executive Producer
- LIVING WITH ALZHEIMER’S PROJECT LAUNCHES WITH NEW DOCUMENTARIES BY AWARD WINNING DIRECTORS by Paula Bernstein, Indiewire, September 9, 2013
- WATCH A NEW STEVE JAMES SHORT DOCUMENTARY: A PLACE CALLED PLUTO Kartemquin Film, September 9, 2013
- LIVING WITH ALZHEIMER’S: FOUR SHORT FILMS Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, September 13, 2013
- WATCH: NEW STEVE JAMES SHORT ‘A PLACE CALLED PLUTO’ ON EARLY STAGES OF ALZHEIMER’S by Christopher Campbell, Nonfics, September 10, 2013
- LIVING WITH ALZHEIMER’S – FOUR SHORT FILMSLiving with Alzheimer’s By Brenda Avadian, September 17, 2013
- A PLACE CALLED PLUTO – AN INCREDIBLY MOVING 9 MINUTE FILM ABOUT LIVING WITH ALZHEIMER’S Posted by author Lisa Genova, September 10, 2013
- THE INEVITABILITY OF PLUTO This story was produced by Alex Kapelman for the Transom Story Workshop, Spring 2014