ReFrame Film Encourages ‘New Possibilities’ in Dementia Experiences

Time Travel, screening this coming weekend (Jan. 26) at the ReFrame Film Festival in Nogojiwanong/Peterborough, Ontario delves into the world of dementia and the relationships between those with the illness and the people whose lives they share.

There’s a fear around dementia and it’s treated as primarily tragic and downhill,” said director Nadine Changfoot, an associate professor of Political Studies at Trent University who based the film on the relationship she had with her father as he lived with Alzheimer’s Disease for 14 years.

nadine changfoot photo

Nadine Changfoot

“I observed that there was a tendency to focus on my dad’s life before he had Alzheimer’s, and often references were made to a person living with dementia as them being a ‘shadow of their former self’. Yet, the person is, and my dad was, very much alive, but in a different way,” she said, in a recent interview with JOURNEY Magazine.

“I hope the film will encourage each one of us to see new possibilities in our relationships with persons living with dementia, and to welcome these possibilities,” she said. 

Changfoot appears as herself in the documentary as she shares experiences of saying good-bye to her dad as he was a younger working father and she was a young girl, and then when he was an older, retired adult living with dementia and she was in her mid-30s. It was shot in 2018 at the University of Guelph arboretum.

The film is multilayered. While there are similarities in the words between the two “good-bye” times on the surface, differences begin to  appear, yet the relationship between daughter and father remains central. Changfoot and her father’s changing social and economic contexts over time add another layer.

“The purpose of my making the film was to give life to and honour the memory of “good-byes” I shared with my dad. I hope the present can hold and welcome memory of relationships shaped by dementia and their changing and recurring dimensions,” she said.

“In many ways, I had a close relationship with my dad when he was living with dementia and, in important ways, I felt we were closer,” said Changfoot. “We shared music together. We danced and moved together. I shared openly with him through the guidance of long-term care staff. I gave him therapeutic touch therapy. Saying good-bye after such full visits was very difficult and heartrending.”

“Dementia continues to carry negative responses, such as prolonged staring, pity, and a focus on tragedy narratives that emphasize worsening health,” she continued. “There are also silences, ignoring, dismissing, denying the experience, or imposing an ‘everything should be normal point of view’ when with friends, family and in public.”

“But meaningful ways to discuss and relate with dementia beyond these distancing responses abound for each individual, family and friends, and colleagues.” 

She hopes the film will encourage viewers to listen to and tell their stories and experiences of relationships with dementia with their families and friends. By welcoming new possibilities in these relationships, she believes we can develop new meaningful ways to connect, support, and care. 

“I hope that by me creating this film, viewers will be encouraged to relate their own experiences and the very fullness of them, including the loving and heartwarming to the sad and bitter parts, and everything in between.”

If people are interested in sharing their stores of dementia, Changfoot said she would welcome hearing from them. 

refram logo 2018

Changfoot used non-representational and blurred images in the documentary to create a disorientation to time and place, making it possible to layer place and time outside of the present, not in a sharp way, she said, but in a softer and gentler way. She hopes the visual effect and soundscape she has used aligns with the meditative and reflective feeling she had when making the film.

She said her interest in understanding people’s experiences with dementia is both personal and social. 

“The personal impact goes without saying and is difficult to put into words because of the complexities involving fullness and loss. That’s why I made this film. Multimedia art comprising the visual, poetry and sound can often communicate meaning more powerfully than words.”

Changfoot, who has taught Canadian Politics, Cultural Politics and Gender and Politics at Trent for the past 15 years, has received training in multimedia digital storytelling through Re•Vision: the Centre of Art and Social Justice at the University of Guelph, of which she is a Senior Research Associate.

She made her first film titled Nadine Changfoot in 2013 and it was screened at ReFrame in 2015, telling her story of being racialized as a little girl and the experience being seen through an othering gaze. 

She said she enjoys making shorter documentary films, “but Time Travel is a little longer than my first film, so perhaps my future films will get longer bit by bit!”

In the coming years at Trent University, she will be producing multimedia digital stories or digital films made by older adults living at diverse intersections including disability, race, gender, LGBT, and Indigeneity, in partnership with the Trent Centre for Aging and Society, Age-friendly Peterborough, and Bodies in Translation.

 “Bodies in Translation: Activist Art, Technology, and Access to Life (BIT)”, is a multidisciplinary, university-community research project which aims to cultivate and research activist art, and Changfoot is a researcher with it. It is a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council funded project over seven years and co-directed by Drs. Carla Rice and Eliza Chandler.

In the project, ‘activist art’ refers to: disability art, Deaf art, Mad art, aging and e/Elder art, fat art, and Indigenous art. The researchers, artists, curators, practitioners and community members on the grant explore the relationship between cultivating activist art and achieving social and political justice. They believe activist art holds the power to represent these aggrieved communities who are  routinely represented as non-vital, a representation that often produces violent and even deadly effects. They choose to represent them, instead, as artistic, creative, agentive, political, community-connected and full of vitality.

Time Travel will be shown Saturday, Jan. 26 at 5 p.m. at Showplace, Peterborough.

By Melodie McCullough


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