Limerick’s Clare Langford told David Hennessy about her award-winning short film about a family battling with the effects of dementia which is about to go to the Fastnet Film Festival in Cork.
A short film about dementia directed and co- written by a London-based Limerick actress will make its Irish premiere next week.
Mr Wong’s Lullaby, directed, produced and co- written by Clare Langford has already had festival success in the UK and abroad and will screen at Fastnet Film Festival in Schull, West Cork.
The short film deals depicts an elderly man who is suffering the effects of dementia and the toll it is taking on his daughter who must deal with the demands of caring for him as well as working an intensive job.
The idea for the film came from the real life experiences of Clare and her fellow writer, Anni Swinburn.
Clare told The Irish World: “I worked as a live in carer for someone who had dementia and Anni had witnessed it within her own family so we both have experience of seeing it and we were quite keen to approach the topic with some humour, levity and some warmth rather than making it all very doom and gloom.
“Because what we’ve found is that when you have that experience is yes, there are very hard days and there are very sad moments but the way most people get through is laughter, trying to make the best of things, relying on your neighbours and your friends and your family and just trying to be human about it. It’s not possible for a human to live in a state of constant despair and woe. You would never see the light.
“We were quite keen to show that there are two sides to the story but also to highlight the fact that so much of the burden of care tends to fall on family members rather than professional carers.
“We wanted to just explore the toll that takes.”
The film sees social worker Norah struggle to balance her demanding workload with caring for her elderly father Horace, an ex-POW who has dementia.
“It’s a real crisis in the care system generally, but it does tend to fall to family members, and more often than not it tends to fall to female family members, to pick up the slack.
“There just isn’t the resource there within the health system to give people the care they need, especially when someone’s coming to a point where they need very hands on full-time care where they’re not really independent anymore.
“It can become quite emotionally fraught because your relationship with someone changes from being a father and daughter to caregiver and care needer.
“It can make people feel resentful, it can be antagonistic when in actual fact at the end of someone’s life you want to remember the best of them and have time to be with them and to grieve yourself rather than be over-exhausted and overworked.”
The film shows it all getting too much for Norah who sees her father lose himself before her eyes.
“It can be a very quick process, or it can go on for years and years.
“They say with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, a person dies twice.
“The first time is when they get the diagnosis and the second time is when they actually die but the in-between period is actually a period of mourning as well for both the person who has it as their mind and their way of connecting with the world changes, but also for the people caring for them.
“It is sad.
“Luckily there is a lot more research being done now but it’s still a long way off from being something that people understand fully, or know how to manage in the best way.”
Seeing his Chinese neighbour causes Horace to think he is back in a Japanese prisoner of war camp.
The film’s title comes from Mr Wong’s reaction which is to soothe and comfort rather than shake him back to reality.
“It’s meeting someone where they are and understanding, ‘What can I do in this moment to be helpful?’
“If you saw someone sleepwalking, you wouldn’t shake them and wake them up, you would just let them come out of it in their own time and in their own way.
“It’s the same thing and of course, unfortunately the person who he mistakes for being a Japanese prisoner of war guard is his very kind Chinese neighbour.
“It was something we had to be careful about because of course you don’t want to create something that’s offensive or insulting but also the thing is sometimes when people have Alzheimer’s or dementia or any other condition similar, they can say and do things that they wouldn’t normally have done and that isn’t really who they are.
“But it comes out and I know that Anni has had those moments with her own family members and they had Alzheimer’s where she’s in a social situation and someone’s saying something and you’re like, ‘Oh, God, this is really awkward’.”
Another thing depicted in the film is how the condition strips people of their dignity.
“That’s where the care comes in and caring in a way that allows someone to have their dignity.
“It’s so important, and I think we all want it for ourselves or for our own parents or grandparents as well.
“The ultimate act of kindness you can give someone is their dignity.”
There are plans to develop Mr Wong’s Lullaby into a feature film.
“The intention was to try and take the film and use it as a leap stone on to the next project.
“We do want to develop it into a feature and actually the feedback we’ve had at all the screenings and festivals was people wanted to know more, they wanted to get a bit further into the characters and go behind the scenes a little bit more.
“So that was quite encouraging that there seems to be definitely room for us to explore each of the characters a bit further.”
Since graduating from The Drama Centre (Central St Martins), Clare has produced for arts festivals in London, Dublin and Toronto. She has been featured in The Irish World before for her work with The Charm Offensive and productions like The Playboy of the Western World directed by Gavin McAlinden.
She is also the sister of Limerick songstress Emma Langford. Emma features on the soundtrack and Clare is looking forward to Fastnet Film Festival as it will allow Emma and other members of the family who helped to finally see it.
“It will be the first time for a lot of my family to see it on a screen as well, a big screen instead of a laptop.
“You can’t do it without the support of family and close friends.
“They’ve definitely been cheerleading the whole way through, plus they’ve been actively involved.
“My dad did a lot of the graphic designing work for it.
“And Emma created the final piece of music for the soundtrack.
“So they’ve been very hands on in their approach as well.”
The track composed by Marco Cardin and sung by Emma Langford closes out the film beautifully and Clare reveals one of the film’s supporters wanted to have it played at a very momentous time.
“People were very moved by it.
“Actually one of our supporters, her husband sadly died of Alzheimer’s last year, so she used the song as part of the funeral arrangement as well.
“So it’s definitely touched people, a lot of people find themselves kind of brought to tears at that point.”
Mr Wong’s Lullaby has already been acclaimed on the festival circuit.
It won Best UK Narrative Short at London Indie Short Festival, Best Film at Brazil New Visions Film Fest, Best Film at New York Flash Film Fest, Best Director at NYC International Film Festival and Best International Short at Austin International Art Festival.
It has also been selected for film festivals around the world picking up many nominations.
“It’s had a bit of a global journey which is quite exciting.
“We’ve had quite a few official selections to festivals and we’ve had some awards as well.
“It’s nice to get that recognition.
“We’ve had quite a few UK festivals and Fastnet is our first Irish one, which is really exciting.
“It’s going to be a great festival. It’s the first one in three years so everyone’s really positive about being able to get over and mingle and see other films and just enjoy the atmosphere and take in a bit of West Cork.”
Fastnet Film Festival runs 25- 29 May.
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