March 17, 2011

AUSTRALIA: The Power of Big Screen - Enlightening, humorous, dramatic life of 14 older people

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SYDNEY, NSW / Australian Aging Agenda / March 17, 2011

By Yasmin Noone

Tonight, in a dark cinema tucked away in the streets of Adelaide, dreams will come true. 

A collection of short films depicting the enlightening, humorous and dramatic life experiences of 14 older people with short-term memory loss and early stage dementia, will be shown to a host of invited guests.

Filmmaker, Lachlan Coles with Joyce Davies editing the film “Joyce’s Story”.

The older people from Helping Hand Aged Care and ECH and the five young filmmakers who taught them the art of creating a short film, will all sit back and watch the fruits of their labour on the big screen as they receive the audience’s reaction with pride.

The screening of the 14 films will be used as a catalyst for promoting positive images of older people. The creations range from one resident’s experience about Poland in World War II to another’s description about the simple pleasure of falling in love.

The young filmmakers, including AFI nominated Shalom Almond, embarked on the creative journey with residents late last year, with a series of workshops which taught the participants all about filmmaking, from conception to production.

“The older participants made their own films,” said Ms Almond. “They were actively involved in telling their own story, writing their own script and using their own voice. We just helped them along.

“Going into the process, myself and the other filmmakers were a bit cautious because we had never worked with older people before. But once we got going, we saw them as people with own quirks and personality and we became very relaxed."

The films, each as unique as the person whose story they told, linked ageing and short-term memory loss, with meaningful life experiences. Some were light-hearted and humorous while others were dramatic and reflective.

“Overall the quality of the films and voice of the participants voice was really strong.

“There was one participant, Mavis Cooper. She was 93 years old and an artist who still continues to paint in aged care.

“On one of the last days that we worked together, we went to beach to shoot the final scene. After that she said, ‘If I die tomorrow I will die happy after today’.

“That comment makes it all worthwhile.

“I guess you rarely do hear from aged people and so to get to hear their stories was exciting for me.”

Ms Almond recalled the obvious hurdles the young filmmakers had to overcome to work with older participants: dealing with short-term memory loss, problems with mobility and working with visual and hearing impairments.

“The [older participants] also had to come into a room full of strangers and be open and honest about their experiences, telling a story and collaborating with us to produce a film.

“Everyone from the course was really different so we treated everyone as an individual, with unique requirements. We looked at everyone on a case-by-case basis.

“Even though there were many challenges to overcome, the most brilliant thing was that not one participant dropped out. Some actually turned up an hour early each week. It was such a successful project in that way.”

CEO of Helping Hand, Ian Hardy spoke highly of the project and the clever use of technology to bridge the gap between young and old.

“We’re using today’s [digital] technology to tell yesterday’s stories, in readiness for tomorrow’s generation,” Mr Hardy said.

“An estimated 269,000 Australians currently live with dementia, a disease which can be difficult not only for sufferers but also for their friends and family, so these video records of people’s lives are an excellent education tool for the future."

Most importantly, he said, the project reaped multiple benefits, for both the older participants and the younger filmmakers.

“The older participants are all consumers of media but this was probably the first time they were part of the media.

“The young filmmakers have also been awakened to the personal histories and stories of the older participants, which wouldn’t have happened without this project.”

The project was run in partnership with the Media Resource Centre and funded by the Australian Government's Dementia Support Grants. The films will be launched tonight at Adelaide’s Mercury Cinema by the Minister for Health the Honourable John Hill.

© The Intermedia Group