Although I never usually write any personal content on social media, I felt compelled to share a moment which occurred this past weekend. Sunday we had a screening for “Anna”, the short documentary I did on my Godmother who is at her late stages of Alzheimer’s. This film was not about the disease, instead it is about seeing the disease through Anna’s eyes. Rather than try to get the story you want from a documentary, it’s better to let that story be given. I guess you could say the director becomes “Life”. This has been my philosophy with such films as “Tiger” and “Anna”. Perhaps this is why I sometimes feel more like a conduit, and less like a filmmaker.
So the day of the screening for “Anna”, a car rolled up to the theater. Inside the front seat was Anna. Her eyes gazed out the window, as if her mind was in another time and place. Anna’s eyes glanced over to me. A soft and gentle smile warmed her face as if to let me know she was still here. In Anna’s hand was a single flower. Pat, Anna’s husband for over 60 years, carefully took Anna out of the car and placed her into a wheelchair. There were only a few people inside the theater as we entered. Anna, Pat, family and friends took the front row area. As we waited for the film to start, Anna did not speak to much. She held onto her flower with hardly a blink of the eye. The Alzheimer’s has now made her immobile and somewhat catatonic. I took a seat next to Anna and placed my arm around her. This film was for her, and I wanted to be right next to her, at this moment. I had no intent to really watch the film, rather, I wanted to observe Anna as she watched her movie. Being that this was going to be her first and last time she would see her movie, I wasn’t sure it would mean anything. And yet, Anna was the only person I wanted to share this moment with.
The lights went down, the room went black, and beacon of light began to illuminate in the distance. The light grew large and wide until projected before our eyes was Anna. She was larger than life. As Anna’s film began, I watched her eyes open wide, and her mouth gape open. As if some sort of Out-of-Body Experience, Anna began watch and hear about her life. Without judgement a familiar, loving voice spoke of what a remarkable woman Anna was, and all the good she did in life and for her family. As the movie played I held onto Anna, and she held onto her flower. I could tell by the expression on her face that this movie-going experience was impacting her soul. As a filmmaker one can get caught up into what famous actor is attached to your project, if your film is cool enough to be selected for some staff pick, if what you put out there will go viral, or if it is worthy enough for some prestigious award. But in a small theater, this little film was having a huge impact on Anna. Regardless if it’s to make laugh, cry, challenge or re-think, if a film can affect one person, the blood, sweat and tears you sacrificed is all worth it. The film now has purpose.
Anna’s film began to come to a close. Projected upon the screen was a moment with Anna, caressing a large picture of her mother, hoping that they will meet again one day. As this moment played out on screen, Anna, with her flower in hand, cried out in the theater “That’s My Mother! That’s My Mother!”. Tears filled her eyes as she connected with her mother once again. And it was at this moment I truly understood The Power of Cinema.