“There are only four kinds of people in the world: Those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.” – Rosalyn Carter, Former First Lady of the United States
November is not only National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month but also National Family Caregivers Month, when we honor the 65 million Americans who provide unpaid care for chronically ill, disabled or aging family members or friends. Out of these, nearly 15 million care for individuals with Alzheimer’s. The number of Americans living with this devastating disease has reached 6.5 million but is expected to increase exponentially over the next few decades as baby boomers age and medicine allows us to live longer.
Alzheimer’s and caregiving are explored with great sensibility in the motion picture Not to Forget, for which filmmaker Valerio Zanoli received a multitude of accolades, including an Excellence Award at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. The movie stars 5 Academy Award-winning actors: Louis Gossett Jr., Tatum O’Neal, George Chakiris, Cloris Leachman, and Olympia Dukakis. It is admirable and unheard-of for an independent filmmaker like Zanoli to gather such an all-star cast, even more so because it is for an honorable project that supports an important cause. Above all, it is rare for a movie to have a great impact and provoke a visceral reaction, like in the case of Not to Forget. It has been called a lighthearted comedy that reveals itself to be an emotional drama that treats deep themes and ideas. It is simple on the surface, but complex in its substructure.
The story follows Chris (Tate Dewey), a self-centered millennial who has grown up to become a con artist. After one of his scams goes awry, he is sentenced to take care of his grandmother (Karen Grassle), affected by Alzheimer’s. The young protagonist ends up in rural Kentucky, in a small town populated by supporting characters who help him flourish. Chris’ journey is interior, and not just from the big city to the countryside. He learns about the importance of family thanks to Grandma, who embodies family values and wisdom. At the end of the film, Chris accepts his mother’s death and, mirroring Zanoli’s real-life activism, creates a project to raise awareness and funds: www.letsmakeadifference.info.
In a recent interview, the director of Not to Forget stressed that all of us can change the world. This is something we should always remember and celebrate, not only during Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and Family Caregivers Month. “Both my parents passed away. Since then, I’ve been determined to honor them and keep them alive through my actions. That’s why I gave life to this movie about the power of memory,” said Zanoli. “Not to Forget is so much more than a film about Alzheimer’s. Its protagonist Chris is a character very close to me: When circumstances force him to become a caregiver, he discovers the importance of family and finds himself. Over 20% of adults in the United States care for a friend or family member affected by life-altering conditions such as Alzheimer’s. Caregiving is a fundamental part of society, a reminder of how much we all need each other, and one of the purest forms of love. After all, caring for a loved one can be enormously fulfilling and is ‘not just pain’ – like one of the characters says in my film.
“During pre-production, Alzheimer’s patients and caregivers read the screenplay and provided invaluable feedback,” Zanoli added. “After several revisions, I reached out to my dream cast and I convinced Karen Grassle and five Oscar-winning actors to join me for an incredible experience. I had the honor and pleasure of working with talented professionals, of directing Cloris Leachman and Olympia Dukakis in their final performances, and of bringing to the big screen a story that needs to be told.”
“Working on the film Not to Forget was an unforgettable experience,” said Grassle. “After writer and director Valerio Zanoli approached me for the role of Melody, I read the screenplay, and I immediately accepted to be part of this sweet and charming story. Our film dealt with dementia and was produced as an attempt to further educate and draw funds to this issue,” she added. “This film reminds the audience we need to strive to make a difference and support the fight against this terrible disease, which affects millions of people and their families.”
The film features Cloris Leachman, who won an Academy Award for The Last Picture Show and eight Primetime Emmy Awards from 22 nominations, making her the most Emmy-nominated and tied for the most Emmy-awarded actress in television history. “Over the past few years, I have assisted my late mother on the several films she starred in,” said Dinah Englund, Leachman’s daughter. “From my privileged position on set, I was happy to see that Valerio was taking his time with my mom. Though her age and health didn’t make it easy, Valerio was very patient, worked around her needs, and was determined to make her shine. He went so far as to create a character carved from her personality. Spending time with her also off set, he made sure to listen to her voice and treasure her advice.”
Olympia Dukakis, also featured in the film, won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for her performance in Moonstruck. “When he approached me, Valerio wanted to create a movie to raise awareness and funds for the fight against Alzheimer’s, and I wanted to be part of it,” said Dukakis soon after the film was completed. “Valerio created a sweet film, which I enjoyed watching. He respected the limitations imposed by my age, and he calmly and professionally helped me feel at ease, before and during filming. I was glad that Valerio kept in touch with me for the holidays and for my birthday, kept me updated about the status of the film, and asked for my feedback.”
Not to Forget also features Tatum O’Neal, the youngest person ever to win a competitive Academy Award, which she won at age 10 for her performance in Paper Moon; Louis Gossett Jr., best known for his role in the film An Officer and a Gentleman, winning him the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor; and George Chakiris, who won both the Academy Award and the Golden Globe Award for his performance in the 1961 film version of West Side Story.
“When I first got the audition for Not to Forget and I had the chance to read the script, I knew right away that not only was it a great opportunity to work on a great film, but it was something I could really grasp onto and connect with,” said Tate Dewey, who plays the role of Chris. “The film deals with one of the most destructive diseases in the world, but it focuses less on the specifics of the disease itself and more on how families can come together in the midst of it.
“One of the main themes is growing up, as Chris does in the film,” he added. “That journey and the challenges that came with it were very interesting. I couldn’t have dreamed of a better character to portray in my first lead role, and at the same time, I was well aware of the amount of work and commitment I’d have to put into it. In that sense, both Chris and I got to grow up, and I’d say the experience really helped me not only as an actor but also as a person.”
Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement called Not to Forget “heartfelt and moving,” and, while celebrating Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and Family Caregivers Month, emphasizes that “caregiving is an endeavor in which all of us will ultimately participate, one that connects us and reminds us of our common humanity. As we honor the caregivers amongst us, we hope this issue can help educate and inspire you.” Additional information about Alzheimer’s disease can be found at www.thewomensalzheimersmovement.org