Monday, January 12, 2015

"Alive and Well" presents the histories of 7 people at familial risk of developing Huntington's Disease

The documentary “Alive and Well” (2013), by Josh Taft, gives us video statements of seven individuals who have had to face Huntington’s Disease (link )
The 75-minute film is shot in wide screen anamorphic, to emphasize that people with the risk of developing the disease are living out their young adulthoods well, often out of doors.
The disease is genetic, and any descendent has a 50% chance of inheriting the disease, which usually means developing of neurological symptoms in middle age.  In the worst cases, people become totally helpless, much as with Alzheimer’s.  In a few cases, it can start in childhood.
But adults born into families with the gene face the existential dilemma of being tested and “knowing”.  There is also a debate over testing the unborn for the gene and performing abortion if positive.  Some commentators, especially in the UK, have said that people who carry the gene simply must not have children.  This was a more acceptable attitude in the past than now. I do recall, as a boy in the 1950's, of hearing people speak of "softening of the brain" at middle age, almost with a tone of moral disapproval; it did happen to a neighbor's father.  
The seven individuals are in Medford, OR; Olympia WA; Woodside, CA, near Seattle, WA; London, UK; Mount Kilimanjaro in Kenya, and Capetown, SA. 
The individual in CA is a percussion player in the style of “Whiplash”.  The person in London does bring up research in medications that can delay symptoms of the disease in those who test positive.  
But the most visually stunning scene is that of a young woman climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, to dispose of the ashes of her father.  The final segment in South Africa presents a man writing a dissertation on the disease in various populations in the country, and his visiting the “townships” while apartheid was still practiced. 
The film title is actually “Alive & Well”.  The link is here (Kino Lorber).  The film can be watched on Instant Play on Netflix.  The film was shown in the Seattle Film Festival. 
Wikipedia attribution link for animated 3D gif of Kilimamjaro from NASA (PD)   "The Snows of Kilimanjaro” (1952), with Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward, by Henry King (Fox), was one of the first movies I saw, in the old Buckingham Theater in Arlington VA.  That was a sad film, in which a hunter slowly dies from an infection from a hunting accident.  

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