Memorial Day weekend, my long time partner Jim had a violent delusional episode in our front yard. The next day we took him to Seton Hospital. Five days later, he was transferred from the hospital to a secure place where he had his own room with a sunlit window. Eleven weeks later, on August 16, 2019 under a full moon Jim died. The next day I wrote a poem titled “On Dying of Dementia in a Capitalist System” based on my observations throughout this time in memory care.
Documentary and observational, this film can only be done in power with animation. I am exceedingly fortunate to have collaborators – Sebastián Bisbal, Chilean animator (Tightly Wound) and Tom Hammond sound designer (Scanner Darkly). The project is an intensification of reality with anger, humor, and love revealed in the specific details of its scenes. Eleven weeks taken down to ten minutes.
The substance and arc of the film follow the poem, beginning with an angry whisper about institutional dying – social, economic, political – narrowed by laws of the marketplace. We see images of confinement, hallucinatory horror; hear narration of things said and done while Jim was dying; an artificial world of edifice, vampire and vulture. A direct care worker says, “This place is like a pretty woman with a big butt, this fancy building with nothing inside. The only reason I do my job is I don’t want to go to hell.”
We move into a larger room of manners and strange props, cloth napkins on tables, a manikin woman with an old-fashioned lace dress and scarf, a programmed fireplace. The room is attached to a locked metal fenced outside area with raised flowerbeds. A group of women with purses dressed for outside plot escape and then, tired and forgetful, drift back to their rooms.
Animated sequences reveal the humanity of the people living inside memory care – at times mysterious, at times sad, at times overwhelmingly beautiful. Betsy lies naked in an empty flowerbed and calls for heaven in the hot Texas sun. Cliff, his dog Mario beside him, offers comfort in a looped touch to Jim’s shoulders. Natural images and sounds provide additional content. The locked area outside exposes crows overhead, bug and frog sounds, a sky with nothing but blue.
Back in Jim’s room, his body on a bed, broken and partially raised blinds behind with a full moon still visible, the film returns to political reality. Hospice and memory care set arbitrary rules and blame workers for neglect. A vulture transforms into a businessman in a suit and tie and offers condolences. The film’s narrator addresses the audience to demand transformation. The moon image returns and Jim’s spirit grows to fill the universe with light. Natural and artificial; personal and political merge.
About the Directors
Anne comes out of a movement to make media that creates opportunity for social change. She has made documentary films (always with limited resources) since the 1970’s and was associate director and assistant camerawoman for HARLAN COUNTY, USA.
Recent work includes feature documentaries:
A STRIKE AND AN UPRISING (IN TEXAS)
I think of this film as the monument that replaces the removed statue of Jefferson Davis, a monument to equality and freedom.
ANNE BRADEN: SOUTHERN PATRIOT
A gem of a film, accented with freedom fighters who speak firsthand about carving a path through a traumatized, violent, racist South.
MORRISTOWN: IN THE AIR AND SUN
Brings the complex issue of globalization down to its human level. Workers on both sides of the border speak from the heart.
For a list of films: https://annelewis.org/films/
Anne received a United States Artists award, a Rockefeller Fellowship, and awards for specific films including Judge’s Choice London Film Festival for FAST FOOD WOMEN and the DuPont-Columbia Award for ON OUR OWN LAND. Her intent is to create meaningful work, tell the truth about working class Americans, and contribute to the vitality of independent filmmaking.