Director Michael Rossato-Bennett putting an iPod into action in Alive Inside (Bond 360)

Director Michael Rossato-Bennett putting an iPod into action in Alive Inside (Bond 360)

Written, Produced and Directed by Michael Rossato-Bennett
Released by Bond 360
USA. 74 min. Not rated

yellowstar Just imagine the pitch: “It’s a documentary about geriatrics with advanced Alzheimer’s, many of whom have no family to visit them and are on the brink of death, listening to iPods for the first time.”

No studio executive would hear the cha-ching of cash registers at this meeting. Fortunately, director Michael Rossato-Bennett and social worker Dan Cohen (of the nonprofit Music & Memory) were wise enough to take matters into their own hands when filming Alive Inside, a documentary espousing the universal potency of music.

Originally hired to make a website for Cohen, Rossato-Bennett was fascinated by Cohen’s discovery while volunteering in nursing homes. He noticed a change in residents deeply afflicted with Alzheimer’s/dementia, who had been rendered nearly catatonic from their lack of social stimulation. They were responding with childlike excitement upon hearing music from their younger years on personalized MP3 devices. One 94-year-old resident, Henry, a man who could barely recognize his own daughter, came to life when listening to Cab Calloway. He could suddenly recall his favorite musicians of childhood, lyrics, the details of his grocery delivery route as a boy, and his passion for music. This response astonished the nursing home staff.

Dan was also intrigued. He asked Rossato-Bennett to film him in action for one day, recording the responses of various elders listening to their favorite music. The majority yielded the same responses as Henry. Michael went from filming a single day to documenting this phenomenon for three years.

During this time, when Cohen wasn’t interacting with the residents, he was applying for every grant possible to make personal iPods a nursing home standard. Regrettably, but not surprisingly given our nation’s obsession with pharmaceuticals and negligent attitude towards natural remedies, Cohen didn’t get very far.

While an iPod certainly will not cure dementia, to assign one to a resident costs a mere $49, which is a staggeringly small price to pay for a huge effect on mood. Prescription drugs obviously cost exponentially more than this, and in turn do nothing to bring such joy to recipients. Cohen isn’t being cultish here—he is fully rational and realizes the need for medication by many sufferers of Alzheimer’s. He does have one irrefutable point, though: this method of giving people back their music that they loved has proven results and harbors literally no negative side effects. If there is no risk and little cost, what’s the holdup?

Instead of throwing in the towel, Cohen and Rossato-Bennett are going grassroots. When the film debuts in New York City July 18th, they will have donation boxes for audience members to bring any unneeded iPods or MP3 players. It’s a small start, but it’s a start nonetheless.

The most important aspect of this film isn’t its production values, such as the sound editing or the score, which are exceptional. This is the kind of film that transcends the criteria of formalism because the message is so purely good-natured. Spread the word, the love, and the music. (AND BRING TISSUES.)