For months, our Kansas City Movies and Memory team has been working on creating a memorable dementia-friendly movie experience and film series. Ron and I were so lucky to partner with the Heart of America Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, the Kansas City Public Library, and the Kansas City FilmFest. For our first offering, we wanted a short movie with a splash of fun and a heart-filled message that would engage multi-generations. We wanted live music and free popcorn. We wanted each person to walk away with a souvenir. And we wanted to attract a diverse audience.
The Red Balloon was a wonderful success. This ageless film, about a boy and his magical balloon, attracted one hundred people, from ages three up through the nineties. Our audience, little kids and big kids both, clustered around the popcorn machine, watching the aromatic kernels blossom. They listened to Parisian songs by a renowned clarinetist and a guitarist. They learned a little about creating a “memory aware” city. And they laughed, smiled, sat on the edge of their seats, and clapped, all avidly involved in the movie. At the end, we walked out holding a huge bouquet of red balloons and each person was excited to take home a lovely reminder of the afternoon.
Here’s what we learned: when you’re taking photos of people holding balloons, you don’t even have to ask them to say, “Cheese.” They’re already smiling.
Here’s the great news.
You can easily have this movie experience at home. It’s perfect for an intergenerational family gathering, a holiday event, or just a cozy evening at home.
Here are a few tips for creating a memorable movie experience:
- Pick a time of day where everyone has good energy. Our event was held at 2:00 in the afternoon.
- Make sure the technology is organized and everyone can see the screen.
- Arrange for comfortable seating and minimal distractions.
- Offer your favorite movie-going indulgences. Freshly popped popcorn is irresistible.
- Talk about what you’re going to see.
- If you want, stop the movie in the middle and talk about what you’ve seen. Ask open-ended questions, such as “Would you have climbed the pole to fetch the balloon?” “Why do you think the boy loved the balloon so much?” “What does this movie make you think of?”
- At the end, talk about the movie: what you liked, what you didn’t like, and what the movie made you think about.
- When the movie experience is complete, hand each person a helium-filled red balloon. Even a red balloon filled with hot air will do!
Deborah Shouse is the author of Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together and Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.