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UCLA Extension student’s short film emphasizes optimistic outlook on Alzheimer’s

UCLA Extension student Bruna Cabral wanted to convey the importance of being patient with those who have Alzheimer’s disease in her short film “Piece of Me.” The films follows an eight-year-old boy whose 80-year-old best friend begins to lose her memory due to the disease. Cabral said she wanted to juxtapose the innocence of a young child with an elderly character.
(Amy Dixon/Photo editor)

By Max Kieling

April 2, 2019 9:57 p.m.

Every three seconds, someone develops Alzheimer’s disease – but Bruna Cabral is trying to find hope despite its negative impacts on millions of families.

The UCLA Extension student’s short film follows an 8-year-old boy named Dylan (Mason Wells) whose 80-year-old best friend begins to lose her memory due to Alzheimer’s. Instead of abandoning her, the little boy sticks by her and tries to maintain their friendship and her memory. “Piece of Me” recently completed filming and is currently in the editing phase, which Cabral said is expected to finish in a month. As it depicts personal relationships impacted by the disease, Cabral said the film emphasizes the importance of being patient with those who have Alzheimer’s.

“Just because someone cannot remember you does not mean you should forget them,” Cabral said. “They can remember more than you think.”

[RELATED: Upcoming student film tells a ghost story centered on childlike innocence]

Many families unjustly abandon their relatives who have the disease, assuming that it is irreversible and irremediable, Cabral said. This message is relayed through the characters who maintain their relationships with the Alzheimer’s patient, Mrs. Brooks (Roberta Sloan), refusing to leave her side until the very end. While conceiving the film, Cabral said she was inspired by cases of Alzheimer’s in her grandfather and aunt. Her own resilient, unyielding attitude toward the condition helped her shape Dylan’s perspective in the film, she said.

“I wanted to show the innocent point of view (of an 8-year-old) to offer a sweet, optimistic perspective of Alzheimer’s,” Cabral said.

The use of a child as the protagonist helped instill the film with a sanguine tone, Cabral said. She chose opposite age groups in order to follow a younger perspective on the topic. Dylan, portrayed by 8-year-old Mason Wells, is initially flustered, confused and depressed by the onset of Alzheimer’s in Mrs. Brooks. However, he slowly learns that not all hope is lost, Wells said.

My character was so sad at first,” Wells said. “But then (he) learned that when someone has Alzheimer’s it doesn’t mean you should forget them, you still have to love them.”

[RELATED: UCLA students found organization to advance Alzheimer’s research]

Balancing a hopeful message with the often grim realities of Alzheimer’s was difficult, Cabral said. However, she added the dynamic between the characters helps to create a sense of resilience and optimistic willpower, as Dylan would stay by her side indefinitely. The role was also difficult to play, Wells said, because he always had to show true and natural emotions, which he drew from his own life experiences.

To better understand the disease and portray it accurately, Cabral said she enlisted the help of her roommate, UCLA Extension graduate in directing Camila Rizzo. The assistant director and producer of “Piece of Me” said she used her mother’s experience with Alzheimer’s to make the movie as authentic as possible, incorporating elements from her life into the film. It’s a hefty subject to tackle in a short film, Rizzo said, but it came together in the end.

It’s really all about staying with them and loving them, that’s the most important part, Wells said.

“The brain can forget, but the heart can remember,” Wells said. “You just have to believe in miracles.”

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