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Scott Kirschenbaum runs COMPOST MEDIA, a production company creating content at the nexus of body, mind, movement and land. He is in pre-production on a feature film that explores healing through music and dance. His previous two films were the Alzheimer's documentary "You're Looking At Me Like I Live Here And I Don't," which aired on PBS' Emmy award-winning program Independent Lens, and serves as a teaching tool for nonprofits, universities, libraries and conferences around the world; and the birth documentary "These Are My Hours," which was named the "most cinematic birth documentary ever" and has been distributed in 45 countries worldwide. Prior to that he directed the speaker series "A Soapbox in Haiti," which was featured on ABC World News, which premiered on Haitian television stations on the one-year anniversary of the earthquake, and is taught in Haitian studies program in the United States, Canada and Europe. A graduate of Yale University and participant of the SF Film Society FilmHouse Residency, Kirschenbaum lives alongside the Blue Ridge Parkway outside Asheville, NC.
Scott Kirschenbaum headshot
Scott Kirschenbaum



by Scott Kirschenbaum

In the fall of 2008, I wrote a screenplay I intended to film entirely in an Alzheimer's unit. After many weeks of rehearsals, I arrived at a troubling realization: I was not just making a challenging film -- I was making the wrong film.

Writing a fictional Alzheimer's narrative -- creating a neat and orderly plot whose course I could control, from a disease by nature chaotic and nonlinear -- was impossible. In the way that a son or daughter doesn't know exactly what to expect during a visit with a parent who has Alzheimer's, it's inconceivable (some might even say ridiculous) for a screenwriter to map out the trajectory of a scene in an Alzheimer's unit, and expect it to play itself out in a manner remotely resembling what was written.

Other than the loose structure provided by a schedule of daily activities -- a parachute toss, the hair salon, an oldies sing-a-long -- life in an Alzheimer's unit does not follow the logic of the real world. It is founded upon the incidental and accidental, a string of interactions and experiences that digress unpredictably, omnidirectionally and constantly turn back on themselves. The Alzheimer's unit almost never adheres to the continuity of the linear narratives that we enjoy on a daily basis -- or that screenplays require.

The first time I visited the Traditions Alzheimer's Unit in Danville, Calif., I was greeted at the door by Lee Gorewitz, a spry septuagenarian in a baby blue jogging suit. With the exuberance of a cruise director, Lee presented herself as a staff member, took my hand and gave me a tour, during which she delivered a soliloquy unlike anything I had ever heard before: for well over a minute she prattled on about purses, windows and gardens, before she eventually locked eyes with me and said: "I hear the song in my ears, and I think they don't love me anymore."

From this spontaneous word-salad came two things that forever altered my film project; I realized Lee was not staff, but a resident. And, I decided, her presence in the unit was reason enough to throw away that screenplay I'd just written.

For the next six months, I visited Lee with the hope of making a documentary that would capture her inner universe: the discord and frustration, the communication breakdown and uninhibited behavior everyone speaks of when they speak of Alzheimer's -- and the unusually poetic candor it can distill. Reflecting on her birthplace, Lee would say, "Brooklyn, it's right behind you." Considering love: "That's a damn good thing to work with." Regarding her deceased husband: "How do I even say it? The air -- was very good."

Like many in an Alzheimer's unit, for Lee every day is an odyssey: wandering to and fro with no destination in particular, on a quest for something that she can neither articulate nor comprehend. Having advanced Alzheimer's was once described to me by a neuroscientist as akin to waking up in the middle of hinterland Russia, alone, not knowing a lick of the local language, not knowing how you got there and being expected to act like it was home.

Due to that constant sense of disorientation, in the span of minutes Lee could morph from pensive thinker to gregarious helper, from bubbly mover-and-shaker to morose and sometimes cruel instigator. When in good spirits, she consoled heartbroken women, kissed caregivers and shook a tail-feather even after the music had stopped. And with no realistic option for leaving, Lee also gave in to frustration: She argued with her tablemate at lunch, kicked a bouncy ball at a frail man's legs and unapologetically told a sickly woman that she is going to die.

My time with Lee, and her struggle, left me utterly confounded. Who should say Lee's fragmented reality is any less valid than my own?

Composer John Cage once wrote, "The first question I ask myself when something doesn't seem to be beautiful is why do I think it's not beautiful. And very shortly you discover that there is no reason." A shift happened for me when I started to embrace the sublime chaos of Lee's world. Spending time with her became not about remorsing on what will never be, her past (most of which she cannot remember) -- nor was it about analyzing the tragedy of her plight. It became about letting Lee tell her own story, one unfolding in the context of a cruel, debilitating disease. And it became about learning that there was no reason not to let that story seem beautiful.

In ways that are often painful and intense to the rest of us, Lee and others with Alzheimer's stumble along a road we're all traveling, trying -- often desperately -- to communicate something, anything, grasping for unanswerable riddles.

And until there's a cure for Alzheimer's, there's one way, outside of medicine, to counter this disease, which we all have within our reach, whatever the road, whatever our relative agility at traversing it.



Scott Kirschenbaum

Shane Boris
Scott Kirschenbaum

Director of Photography
Michael Sly

Stuart Sloan
Susie Lichter

Gracey Nagle

Associate Producers
Kevin Crawford
Ken Fisher
John Givens
Stuart Sloan

Location and Production Supervisor
Karen Kelleher

Sound Design
Kevin Crawford

Sound Editor
Kevin Crawford
Philip Perkins

Rerecording Mixer
Philip Perkins

Original Music Composed by
Nadia Shihab

Music Engineer
Mark David Ashworth

Marketing and Outreach
Emily Hoover
Lauren Popper Ellis
Ana Heller

Color Finishing
Gary Coates

Still Photography
Phillip Maisel

Graphic Design
John Givens
Anna Grace
Scott Green
Michelle Snow

Web Design
Michelle Snow
Vivek Bharathan
Ken Fisher
Phil Gorrindo
Jesse Gottesman

Post-Production Supervisor and Online Editor
Ben Zweig

Title Sequence Designer
Stefan Belavy

HD Mastering
Video Arts San Francisco

Pre-Production Consultants
Rachel Benson
Jesse Dana
Eryka Fiedler
Joe Genden
Colleen Hartman
Sam Hoffman
Sage Bearman
Anne Marsa
David May
Robert Poswall
Beth Powder
Rob Shilov
Jenais Zarlin

Post-Production Consultants
Herve Cohen
Sara Dosa
Tristan Gorrindo
Amanda Larson
Dalan McNabola
Stosh Mintek
Matt Preis
Ja Shia
Jeremy Solterbeck

Legal Counsel
Mount, Spelman & Fingerman
George Rush

Additional Music
"Tomcat Instrumental"
Written by Jef Scott and Al Lowe
Performed by JTML
Courtesy of First Frame Music and Justin Time Productions

Special Thanks
Troy Beaton
Maggie Bloom
Jonathan Blute
The Boris Family
Rebecca Richman Cohen
Janice L Corran
The Crawford Family
Bob Dunn
James Vincent Duruz
Carol Elliott
Isaac & Michael Ellis
Fleishacker Foundation
Ben Fowlie
Ghetto Film School
Carol Goldman
The Gorewitz Family
Sarah Hill
The Kirschenbaum Family
Rabbi Debora Kohn
Rosie Legarsmeur
Wendy MacNaughton
Joanna Moore
Annie Murphy
Sohalie Nagle and the Nagle Farm
Ben Newhouse
George Pfau
Joan and Richard Popper
Esther & Jacques Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living
Michael Ross and the Ross Family
San Francisco Film Commission
Suzanne Sloane
Synergos Institute
Underground Advertising
Elaine Zolfarelli

Filmed on location in Danville, California

Fiscal Sponsors
San Franciso Film Society

This program was produced by You’re Looking At Me, LLC,
which is solely responsible for its content.

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