It was while visiting her mother in a Chicago nursing home in the 1990s that Berna Huebner found inspiration for a documentary film about how creative arts can change the quality of life for people with Alzheimer’s.
Huebner asked her mother — who for many years was a distinguished and successful painter — “Mom, do you want to paint?” The response, “Yes, I remember better when I paint,” prompted Huebner to enlist art students to work with her mother. And as she returned to the creative outlet she had dejectedly given up, her mother emerged from apathy and agitation, and regained some of her capacity for communication, as well as much of her dignity. Despite her Alzheimer’s, Huebner’s mother — Hilda Gorenstein, aka Hilgos — continued painting for almost four years, until her death at age 93.
This experience led Huebner, who today divides her time between Chicago and Paris, to create the Hilgos Foundation, which provides grants to art students who work with Alzheimer’s patients. And, to team up with French filmmaker Eric Ellena, to make the documentary “I Remember Better When I Paint: Treating Alzheimer’s Through the Creative Arts.”
The film, which has been screened at film festivals, conferences, medical and academic institutions around the world, will be shown at the SC Johnson Golden Rondelle Theater, 1525 Howe St., at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 6.
Huebner says it has been a journey to think about Alzheimer’s in a new way. “In the moments when she painted, my mother truly seemed to come alive. That is why we wanted to share these experiences ... (we) hope that they will help show how our society can address the challenge of Alzheimer’s and other memory problems, not only through the search for new medical treatments which might prevent or at least slow the progression of the disease — as important as they are — but also through the healing, communicative power of the creative arts,” says Huebner.
Huebner, who has local ties, will introduce the film and will serve on a panel for a public discussion following the hour-long screening. She co-wrote and co-directed the film.
Narrated by actress Olivia de Havilland, “I Remember Better When I Paint” features personal stories, including that of actress Rita Hayworth, as told by her daughter, Yasmin Aga Khan, who is also president of Alzheimer’s Disease International. Also included are interviews with neurologists who explain how creative activities engage undamaged areas of the brain and reawaken a sense of personality, identity and dignity.
Described as “Powerful beyond words” by journalist and Pulitzer Prize finalist Richard Reeves, “I Remember Better When I Paint” was filmed in North America and Europe and shows Alzheimer’s patients focusing and reconnecting as they paint and visit artistic venues such as the Louvre in Paris, the Art Institute of Chicago and New York City’s Big Apple Circus.
Its screening in Racine is being presented by Hospice Alliance and the Alzheimer’s Association, Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter, in partnership with SC Johnson. For more about the film, go to www.irememberbetterwhenipaint.com.
If You Go
WHAT: “I Remember Better When I Paint” documentary film
WHEN: 6:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 6. Doors open at 6 p.m.
WHERE: SC Johnson Golden Rondelle Theater, 1525 Howe St.
INFO: Reserve seats at www.scjohnson.com/visit (under Schedule Your Tour) or by calling 262-260-2154.