‘Looks Like Laury, Sounds Like Laury’ A Portrait Made With Love
By Nichole Dupont
Connie Shulman and Laury Sacks.
Imagine the most vibrant person in your life; Sharp-witted, the life of the party, compassionate. The story seems always to begin with this beloved main character, who suddenly starts acting very strange. That’s where Laury Sack’s story began, and it’s in that moment that her good friend, documentarian Pamela Hogan, who lives part-time in Litchfield County, let the camera loose to chronicle the devastating effects of Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD) on Laury, just 46 at the time of her diagnosis, and on those who loved her beyond the grip of this mystery disease.
“She was always so funny, and she let the audience know that it was OK to laugh,” says Hogan. “It was unthinkable, and she laughed a lot about it because it just doesn’t get any more absurd.”
“Looks Like Laury, Sounds Like Laury” will be screening at the Scoville Memorial Library in Salisbury on Friday, April 24 at 7 p.m. It is the first in what Hogan hopes are many screenings across the country to raise awareness about early onset dementia, FTD and Alzheimer’s, especially for those who are caregivers and families trying to muddle through the diagnosis just as Laury’s husband and two children did. A talk-back with the producers will follow the screening.
Hogan [left], who is an Emmy-award winning producer and director — her credits include PBS’s Wide Angle series, NBC’s “To Be an American,” and her own films such as “Time for School” and Ladies First” — had to find the delicate balance between work and friendship in order to capture Laury’s experience without invading her dear friend’s life.
“We decided that we were going to film two times a week and only at times that worked for her, not first thing in the morning when they were having breakfast or things like that,” she says. “And we had to shoot in short bursts and find out what was going on in that particular week. She always played for the camera, you can just tell.”
Each scene is a backwards milestone: Laury not able to remember common words, Laury struggling to make fennel soup, Laury refusing to acknowledge the home companion assigned to her. The decline is rapid as more and more of Laury gets buried inside and friends family turn into babysitters — including good friend and fellow mother and actor Connie Shulman (Yoga Jones on Netflix’s “Orange Is The New Black”), who tries to make a cake with Laury, with some success.
“Turns out, it’s the first experiential film of a person with FTD. Eric [Laury’s husband] says he wished so much that there had been a film like this when Laury — an actor — was diagnosed,” Hogan says. “I like to listen to other people’s stories and Laury was getting me right in my zone. I did this documentary as a tribute to her and I did it because she asked me to, to come and document that year. It was an independent project. I hope it strikes a chord in people when they see it.”
The hope is that the film, and Laury’s life, will be helpful to people like Katie Brandt who just three years ago lost her husband Mike to FTD, a disease which affects 50,000-60,000 Americans, and has no known cure. Mike was only 33 years old when he passed away and the couple had a toddler, Noah, who was born at the onset of his father’s symptoms. Like Laury Sacks, Brandt used humor to get through the situation.
“I had an infant at home, I was taking care of Mike who was really starting to act like a toddler and then my Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 59, so he came to live with us. I shrugged my shoulders and was laughing in kind of a crazy way thinking ‘are you kidding me?’” she says. “What else could I do? We use humor as a tool to survive it, otherwise it takes you down with it.”
Not allowing the Job-like experience to crush her, Brandt has turned it into what she calls her “life’s work,” giving talks and presentations to hospitals, research centers, universities, foundations, pharmaceutical companies and even the State House in Boston about her husband’s fight with FTD. She is also a consultant at Mass General’s FTD unit where she works to help families through the process of the diagnosis and beyond. Both she and Hogan hope that sharing their experiences will ease some of the burden and raise awareness.
“I did two sit-down interviews with Laury during filming,” says Hogan. “In one of the interviews, I asked her ‘what do you hope for?’ And she said ‘I hope for the truth.’ I think that’s the closest she’s come to revealing what she wanted us to know about this disease.”
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