Caregivers is a hybrid documentary about eldercare in the hills of rural Vermont. Told over the course of four seasons and featuring live accompaniment by the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, the film is a powerful meditation on acts of compassion, companionship, and the quest for closure. In partnership with the VSO, Kreitzer intends to tour the finished film with live orchestration to rural and medically-underserved communities using a pay-what-you-can ticketing model. Support the ongoing production by making a tax-deductible donation here.
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Isolated, alone, and hidden in the hills, a patchwork of elderly Vermonters insist on living and dying at home. With no children or spouse to look after them, these “orphan elders” can’t leave because the animals are waiting to be fed, the fields don’t seed themselves, and the firewood needs curing before snowfall. Asking for help or money never comes easy, because surely someone else needs it more than they do. They don’t want pity, no helping hand, and certainly no stranger coming in to mess with their business. Besides, things are fine as they are. Determined, stubborn and resilient they may be, but old age is just as tenacious and shows no signs of slowing.
Meanwhile, as their waning bodies battle the elements and contend against time, a grassroots network of volunteer caregivers keep watchful eye on the elders nestled along the backroads and peppered in the hills. For decades, Windham County, Vermont, one of the oldest in the country, has led the way in non-medical, community-driven eldercare. The model is deceptively simple: neighbors look out for neighbors. Unfussy and unsentimental, it’s a duty built on the bare necessities: food, shelter, health, safety, and companionship.
Operating on the frontlines of their own communities, the caregivers are as humble as the elders they serve, attuned to needs of those around them, and affecting change right in their own backyard. In partnership with the Vermont Folklife Center, Senior Solutions, Windham County Cares, and Brattleboro Area Hospice, Caregivers is a powerful tapestry of stories rooted in the cycles of agrarian life. Told over the course of four seasons and featuring live accompaniment by the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, the film addresses the needs of an aging population, and honors those who are not afraid to look the other way.
Caregivers arrived without invitation over a decade ago and has stomped, howled and whispered for attention ever since. The son of a social worker and nurse, I suppose this story was part of my DNA long before then.
An exploration of companionship, grief, and the quest for closure, the themes of Caregivers extend well beyond my own experience. Today, nearly ten million adult children care for an aging parent---a figure that has tripled over the past decade and will continue to grow. In the next fifteen years, an estimated 60 million baby boomers will succumb to the forces of mortality. Another sixty million by 2060. Known as “the silver tsunami”, a generational decline of this scale is unprecedented, underway and accelerating, yet end-of-life issues remain cultural taboos. We avoid, we keep private, we don’t “do death well”. Meanwhile, the demands placed on our institutional care systems are only going to increase, placing them at high risk of implosion. Focusing the scope of Caregivers on grassroots, community-based caregiving models, it’s time we ask questions about how we care for our aging parents, how we cope, and how we accept.
Admittedly, this is challenging material. I get that. I’ve seen walls and shoulders build up as soon as I mention a film about eldercare. But I also know that storytelling is the best way to deal with difficult subject matter. Using cinema to engage a global audience, and live accompaniment to create one-of-a-kind cinematic and communal experiences, this film is a window to open, and hopefully shift, the discourse on eldercare. With film as the vehicle, it’s time we honor the millons of caregivers, past and present, who have quietly forfeited livelihoods to care for aging parents, and prepare a new generation to do the same.
NEWS & PUBLICATIONS
Lanterna Newsletter, The Circle of Care (December 2017)
Lanterna Newsletter, An Act of Altruism (December 2017)
Lanterna Newsletter, In Pictures: A First-Look at "Caregivers" (September 2017)
Lanterna Newsletter, Kreitzer Presents First-Look with Live Orchestration at 3rd Annual MNFF (August 2017)
Take Magazine, Jesse Kreitzer: Truth in Filmmaking I PDF
Seven Days, Vermont Filmmaker to Create Film on Elder Care I PDF
Lanterna Newsletter, Project Announcement #2 (January 2017)
Lanterna Newsletter, Project Announcement #1 (December 2016)
Lanterna Newsletter, Vermont Symphony Orchestra Partners on Next Project (September 2016)