“For me, this film is a collision of two major forces in my life,” says director Roger Ross Williams.
“I spent many childhood summers on a family tobacco farm outside of Charleston, South Carolina. We were immersed in the the Gullah culture, mostly through its food. It was about going down south to go shrimping, about the okra stew, the grits. As an adult, I’ve been fascinated by the culture on a much deeper level.
“The second connection is much more personal. When David Shenk first approached me about making a film about Alzheimer’s, I had an inkling something was going on with my mother. I didn’t want to admit that she was having some issues connected to dementia. I didn’t want to face the reality. But it’s clear now I was drawn to the subject because of her.
“Looking back, I think I focused the film on Ethel because I was identifying with my mother — a strong black woman who had moved north to Philidelphia and then gone back to her native land to finish her time. That same story is now playing out in my own life. My mother has just been diagnosed with dementia, and we’ve moved her back to Charleston.
“I think what struck me most about making this film is how long it takes families to actually process what was going on with their mom or dad’s dementia. There is so much denial. I had never come face to face with this phenomenon. Now I’m realizing that’s exactly what I went through with my own mother. It’s incredibly painful, but it’s also part of being human.”