The filmmaker was flabbergasted when he entered a nursing home on a
commission to film a few clips for a website.
"I walked into these hallways with hundreds of residents in
wheelchairs just sitting on the side of the hallway, and I had felt
like I'd entered into Dante's 'Inferno,'" he said.
That visit, though, eventually sparked "Alive Inside," an
award-winning independent documentary on musical therapy for those
suffering from Alzheimer's disease and other neurological ailments.
When Rossato-Bennett started filming three years ago he met Henry.
The 94-year-old man was crumpled in his wheelchair with his head
down, eyes closed and hands clasped. He had been in a nursing home
for a decade and couldn't recognize his daughter.
But when a nurse put headphones over Henry's ears and played his
favorite music, he began to shuffle his feet, move his arms and
"It was like a resurrection of life in a person," Rossato-Bennett,
53, said. "Then when we took the headphones off the guy, and we
started talking to him, the being revealed itself. He had this
incredible voice and he spoke poetry, like greater poetry than I'm
Henry's story, which went viral a few years ago when the video clip
was released online, is a common occurrence in the film that has
begun its rollout into U.S. theaters this month after winning the
audience award for top U.S. documentary at the Sundance Film
Festival in January.
The documentary chronicles New York social worker Dan Cohen's effort
to bring such therapy to dementia patients as a way to lessen the
use of medication and combat its cost on a strained healthcare
system about to absorb aging Baby Boomers.
Cohen, the 62-year-old founder of Music & Memory, a program that
seeks to make musical therapy a standard part of nursing home care,
began using the treatment in 2006.
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"It was just an instant hit," Cohen said with a snap of his fingers.
His program is now in more than 600 facilities worldwide.
Music, which targets areas of the brain not affected by dementia,
brings back a sense of identity to dementia patients neurologist and
author Oliver Sacks says in the film.
"If you give somebody music for an hour, they're going to be in a
better mood for the day, which is really no different if a relative
visits," Cohen added.
The film shows patients singing and dancing, seemingly re-animated
while listening to music. At one point, Henry sings in the scat
style of jazzman Cab Calloway, his favorite singer.
"When people see this they get it," Cohen said.
Many of the subjects, which also includes a woman with schizophrenia
and bi-polar disorder, show deep emotional resonance to the music.
"Music is a companion to our becoming," Rossato-Bennett said. "So to
enter the desert of soul and bring back something that precious is a
(Editing by Mary Milliken and Andrew Hay)
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