AVA 2021 Winner

ben jij bij mij/are you with me (2021)

DIRECTOR: Mark Lindenberg and Sophia van Ghesel Grothe

ABSTRACT: The documentary ‘ben jij bij mij/are you with me’ portrays Joke van den Broek (92 years), an imaginative woman living in the Netherlands. She used to work as a primary school teacher, and is a real story teller who sees a silver lining in everything. Joke still lives at home and can handle that just fine. Nevertheless, she has to outsource more and more tasks. She doesn’t want to know anything about this. Or… has she perhaps forgotten that she can do less and less? She takes us, as film-makers and family, along with her experiences over the course of three years. Joke needs to rediscover herself, without her (hi)story and familiar surroundings. There are moments of confusion in the nursing home when her vision and memories become blurry, and there are moments of light when loving family and nature are around her. Without her story, but with proper attention and care, Joke is as wise as ever and teaches us about accepting getting older. Earlier versions of the documentary have been shown in a masterclass for elder care nurses in Amsterdam to provide an insight into an experience of living with Alzheimer’s disease. (46 minutes)

BIO: This project is the first big collaboration between Mark Lindenberg and Sophia van Ghesel Grothe. Mark graduated from the film academy in Amsterdam in 2013, specializing in cinematography, and has worked in the film world ever since. He started studying anthropology and development sociology, specializing in visual anthropology, in 2019 out of the desire to independently make documentaries. Mark’s graduation film, which portrays an Amazonian family communicating with plants to help their clients heal, has been screened at film festivals around the world. Sophia graduated in interdisciplinary neuroscience, and psychology. She works as a psychologist, and has a wish to integrate art, science and healing further, also by making films. Under the guidance of an anthropologist and a philosopher, she graduated on how her grandmother can still have a world despite having Alzheimer’s disease. Her grandmother no longer recognizes her cognitively, but their interaction shows that Joke and Sophia have had a loving bond for years. Her grandmother’s experience, or world, is not only in her brain, but in her body: in the way she holds her hand, and teaches.

DISTRIBUTION: The documentary ‘ben jij bij mij/are you with me’ can be rented / purchased by sending an email to marklindenberg@gmail.com.

AVA 2021 Judges: ‘Ben jij bij mij’ takes as its subject a long-standing object of anthropological interest: dementia. The film follows Joke, a woman who is living with dementia, and her family as they all experience the cognitive, emotional, and relational shifts that accompany Joke’s condition. What is so special about this film is its heart and its care toward its central subject. In contrast to the bevy of films and other media that dwell in the maudlin tropes of dementia that only reproduce the erasure of those living with the condition, ‘ben jij bij mij deftly humanizes Joke and her family by letting us see her as a whole person with not only a history, but a present and a future. As the movie progresses, we are given a glimpse into her life, her routines, the changes she undergoes, the strength of her relationships. Joke’s life with dementia is not always easy for her and family, as we witness, but the film has the ethical grace to demonstrate that it remains hopeful. Toward the end of the film, Joke, who has transitioned to a long-term care facility, sums up the beauty of this film in a conversation with her granddaughter, saying, “Life, you can always enjoy it, as long as you are open to everything changing.”

Aaron Seaman, on behalf of the Board of Judges (Film Category)