Even as Joyce Fernandez devotes her life to care for her mother, Celine, who suffers from Alzheimerʼs Disease, she fights her fears with faith when her motherʼs health worsens rapidly. Meanwhile, Dr Irene Giam, who describes herself as an atheist who does not fear death, struggles to restrain her emotions in a relentless march with vascular dementia. Intimate and unflinchingly honest, Before We Forget is a film of two women with dementia who live in an Asian society where terminal illnesses and dying remain taboo.
Filmed in an observational style, BEFORE WE FORGET is the interwoven story of two Singaporean families and their year-long journey with dementia. The film tells the story of Joyce Fernandez, a 50- year-old woman caring for her mother Celine, who has had Alzheimer’s Disease for 7 years.
When Celine suffers a mild stroke and is hospitalized for over three months, Joyce attempts to keep herself together especially after Celine lost all what little speech and she originally had. “Mum and I would have good conversations. But not anymore. I didn’t lose a mother, I lost a friend”. The duo, both staunch Catholics, keep their heads above the emotional turmoil through daily prayer.
The camera also captures frank interviews with Dr Irene Giam (PhD), a former mathematics tutor and atheist with strong views about death in the face of terminal illness. She is first filmed after being diagnosed with ‘mild cognitive impairment’ likely due to systemic fibrosis, an autoimmune disorder which affects her breathing. After she is warded in a hospice because of her rapidly worsening health, vascular dementia causes her to forget the frequent visits by her husband and deepens her feelings of loneliness.
BEFORE WE FORGET observes how dementia slowly and subtly stresses and affect both families. It also depicts candid moments of joy amid the quiet suffering they have to endure.
BEFORE WE FORGET was filmed using a rigged Canon 5D Mark II on location in the homes of both families, in hospitals, and in a hospice from August 2010 to August 2011.
Out of about 20 potential subjects, only two families welcomed us into their private life because of the close association to mental illness. The 46 shooting days produced intimate observational footage that ran to close to 100 hours.
Screenings and festivals
Before We Forget is an official selection at the Southeast Asian Film Festival 2012, New York City Filmmaker’s Festival 2012, and the Pyongyang International Film Festival 2012.
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