This groundbreaking international film documents the positive impact of art and other creative activities on people with Alzheimer's disease. The film's intention is to change the way we look at the disease.  It does just that.  Brilliantly.

Narrated by the actress Olivia de Havilland, the film opens with a 96 year old woman reading classical music as she's playing at the piano. Her music becomes gentle background sound track for the first vignette, a group of people intently viewing and commenting on Seurat's canvas, "Sunday in the Park."  From their intense concentration and voiced observations, one would never believe this was a group of nursing facility residents on an outing to the Chicago Art Museum.

Throughout the film--at the circus, visiting museums, or in painting workshops conducted at day care centers, nursing homes and assisted-living facilities in Europe and the US-- the hopeless, fatalistic, nobody's there stereotypes of Alzheimer's sufferers is unequivocally denied.  We continually witness people with serious memory problems being brought back into active communication and a rich quality of life.  This is more than busywork arts and crafts: trained professionals knowledgeable about both art and Alzheimer's are providing essential treatment "just as effective if not more so than the drugs."  The benefits of the non-pharmacological along with the pharmacological not only extend life, but create a life worthwhile, where people find meaning and connection.
In direct interview, voice-overs and interacting with "patients" and their family members, eminent experts from multiple medical fields - neurology, gerontology, psychiatry- punctuate the film reviewing the latest technologies and concurring that the essence of the person lives on. The latest brain research provides evidence that the parts of the brain related to emotions and creativity are largely spared by the disease and that our technologies for assessing dementia --dealing with sequencing things, dates in order, and what one did this morning--rely on short term memory which is totally irrelevant when enjoying a masterpiece or listening to a symphony.  The documentary also includes comments from art therapists, occupational therapists, directors of specialized care facilities, but the film is anything but talking heads.  The cutaways and extensive footage of the care giving staff and specialists interacting emotionally and physically, visibly bonding with the residents and family members is sincere, loving and inspiring professionalism.

The inspiration for the film and project is filmmaker Berna Huebner's mother, Hilda Gorenstein, once an accomplished painter known as Hilgos.  In one of Huebner's visits to the nursing home, she asks "Mom, would you like to paint again?"  Quite unexpected came the reply, "Yes, I remember better when I paint."  Learning this, the staff psychiatrist who had been prescribing small doses of a tranquilizer for her apathy, anxiety and agitation suggested Huebner enlist art students from the Chicago Museum school to help her mother to begin painting again.  We are not spared the slow and sometimes discouraging process as Mrs. Gorenstein comes alive regaining mobility and communication skills and interacting--bonding-- with the art students.  The film is replete with her colorful paintings created in the next few years until her death at age 93.

"The creative arts are a doorway.  Once that doorway is opened ... things are tapped ... that are genuine and active and alive that don't get tapped in our normal day social interactions when we sit at a table and make conversations over a meal or we read a newspaper article and then talk about the headlines of the day.... The creative arts bypass the [cognitive] limitations and simply go to the strengths. People still have imagination in tact all the way to the end of their disease."


"I Remember Better When I Paint" demonstrates that the person within is alive and well and it is up to us to find the way to reawaken the human connection.  Focusing not on what persons can no longer do, but on what they can do in the moment, in the now, the film shows the joy in restoring self esteem, well-being and dialogue with caregivers and families-- a dialogue that is reciprocal and but prelude to the therapeutic potential for the medical community and society as well.

This documentary is an exquisitely edited work of art in itself and ought to be viewed initially in its entirety --and periodically-- in one sitting.  However, the DVD does offer the option of viewing by chapters: Skip Curtis, Understanding Alzheimer's,  Rita Hayworth, Art as a Solution, Hilgos Story,  Creative Workshops, Museum Visits,  A French Experience and The Hilgo Legacy, Art as a Solution.

Included in the DVD package, expanding on the footage in the film, is a series of short supplemental films that further highlight special programs and flesh out the how-tos of organizing an outing, a creative workshop or recreating social bonds between people with Alzheimer's and their families.

An excellent companion piece is the film Holding Our Own: Embracing the End of Life where the Hallowell chorus is brought to nursing homes, and the artist, Deidre Scherer at the bedside sketches and creates portraits of patient and family,

One wishes some of these art students and art therapists were available to use their empathic and creative art skills with the residents in Shultz's poem Alzheimer's-- in the end communication breaks down. "There is no present . . . "; or with the artist himself as depicted in Munch's Self-Portrait: Between the Clock and the Bed, perhaps gently turning him around to face some of his own paintings visible in the background.  Might he now dialogue or resonate with one of his former paintings, or pick up a piece of charcoal, markers or some of the art materials and become engaged.


Medical authorities on aging who are featured: Robert Butler, Founding Director, National Institute of Aging, President & CEO International Longevity Center; John Zeisel, President, Heathstone Alzheimer's Foundation and author of the book "I'm  Still Here"; Gene D. Cohen, Director, Center on Aging, Health & Humanities, George Washington University; Robert Stern, Boston University School of Medicine, Associate Professor of Neurology and Co-Director, Alzheimer's Disease Clinical & Research Program.

In her mother's memory, Berna Huebner set up the Hilgos Foundation, which co-produced the film. The Hilgos Award provides student funding at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to support and encourage the ongoing process of artistic creation with elderly people.

Primary Source

French Connection Films (