BANFF – It’s the time in our lives we can hardly stand to think about – our parents growing older, seemingly more incapable as the days pass, perhaps with dwindling minds forcing us to watch, as even we fade from their eyes.
While aging is inevitable, we often don’t think about it happening to our very own family members until it’s already happening. One day you look at your mother and suddenly notice the wrinkles becoming more prominent around the features of her face, or that your father suddenly has a bit of a shake to his hand when he reaches for his coffee cup.
And we certainly don’t consider how much our lives will change while we try to help them through the end of theirs.
But a new eight-part series Growing Together as part of the Stories for Caregivers initiative produced and edited by three Banff residents aims to open up discussion about just that.
Producers Eric Schultz and Tyler Funk alongside post supervisor and sound editor Sebastian Mercado all went to kindergarten together in Banff and now they own a production company – North of Now. The three men pitched their idea for the series when Stories for Caregivers put a call out for filmmakers.
“We saw the opportunity – there was an open call for film makers to pitch ideas,” said Funk.
“For me, I’m a father, I spend a lot of time with my child, but I’m not a caregiver. It’s a world that I knew very little about and that was exactly kind of why I wanted to pitch on the project and learn more about it.”
Stories for Caregivers is an initiative developed by the Coup Company in partnership with the Telus Fund. The initiative aims to tell stories about caregivers in the hopes of generating awareness on the topic. According to its website, Canada is host to over eight million caregivers, like Canadian singer-songwriter Jann Arden, who does the voiceover for Growing Together. Funk said Arden was a caregiver for both her parents and they chose her to do the voice over because it gives the series a more personal touch.
“The fact that she has lived through it… She took care of both her parents, they both suffered from Alzheimers,” said Funk.
“She has firsthand gone through being a caregiver and the struggles, so really having that authentic voice was really important for me – really giving a voice to the series.”
The series itself is beautifully animated using nature, humans and animals to depict the many facets of being a caregiver. Funk said each one is done in a different style.
In the first episode, you find yourself among a unique mountain forest scene. A busy raccoon is collecting leaves when a small bird falls from its nest. The raccoon is forced to become its caregiver, trying desperately to help it return home, but with the inability to fly, the task seems ominous. Eventually the raccoon places the bird on its back and tries to climb the tree – a telling metaphor for the content it’s meant to illustrate.
“What we really wanted to do with this series, why it’s animated, is we didn’t want it to be something that turned people off right away, I think because they’re tough conversations,” he said.
“What we tried to create is really visually stunning and beautiful shorts, but they’re all kind of metaphors and we use a lot of nature imagery to tell the stories, which I think has been a really great way to allow people to start having these conversations and to engage with this content.”
For the three Banff-born creators, Funk said the experience was both eye opening and educational.
“It’s been a pretty remarkable process,” he told the Outlook.
“I think it’s a constant learning process of, for one, how many of Canadians become caregivers at some point in their lives. I think right now there are eight million unpaid caregivers, family members and friends taking care of others … Just how it’s such a big part of life that no one really talks about.”
In terms of what North of Now is hoping people take from their series, Growing Together, Funk said they’re happy if it just opens up a dialogue.
“I think the most important thing is hopefully it serves as a support. If it even makes a difference for one caregiver, or someone who doesn’t even identify as a caregiver yet might realize they are, I think that’s a success,” he said.
“Long-term – we hope that it helps to shape policy and it helps to get conversations going that help to change the discourses moving forward. Obviously we’re facing the silver wave of all the Boomers aging and I think that’s going to force us to look at a lot of our systems and how we take care of those aging and the resource available.”