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Film on music-based Alzheimer's breakthrough to open Fort Myers Film Festival

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The Fort Myers Film Festival has chosen Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory as the film that will open its fourth annual film fete. Last month, the film drew the audience award for U.S. documentaries at the Sundance Film Festival.

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Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory portrays a music-based breakthrough that has already transformed lives. Spearheaded by social worker Dan Cohen and captured on camera over the course of three years by filmmaker Michael Rossato Bennett, this award-winning independent film shows viewers how songs from a patient’s past can awaken memories and emotions that have been asleep for years, sometimes decades. Within a moment of hearing I Get Around by the Beach Boys, Alzheimer’s patient Marylou jolts back to life, dancing around the living room and expressing a euphoria her husband hadn’t witnessed since her illness took effect. Countless instances in the film provide proof that music stimulates activity in dementia-affected parts of the brain and transforms the quality of life of those often left to languish in silence.

Through revealing conversations with renowned neurologist Oliver Sacks and musician Bobby McFerrin, as well as powerful firsthand experiments conducted by Mr. Cohen in nursing homes, this groundbreaking documentary demonstrates how connecting the elderly to the music they love not only combats memory loss but also supplements a broken health-care system often indifferent to interpersonal connections.

The documentary's findings are not unlike previous ones. In 2010, researchers at Boston University found that music can not only arouse dormant memories, but may also help people with dementia retain new information. Another study published in 2011 revealed that lifelong musical training can actually offset some of the deleterious effects of aging, including memory loss and difficulty hearing speech.

Director Mr. Rossato-Bennett is the founder and executive producer of Projector Media, a documentary production company dedicated to inspiring conversations that investigate issues related to our cultural consciousness. Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory is Mr. Rossato-Bennett’s first feature length offering.

Opening-night festivities begin at 5 p.m. Wednesday, March 19, at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall. The event will begin with the rolling out of the red carpet, paparazzi snapping photos, drinks, mingling and musical entertainment. After a warm welcome from the night's hosts Stephanie Davis, Chad Oliver and Mayor Randy Henderson, the movie starts at 7 p.m. Tickets are $19 for general admission. VIP packages that include a backstage after-party with music, dancing, open bar and a chance to meet with filmmakers are $99. Tickets are available at http://www.bbmannpah.com/performance.php?id=569.

Film programming runs Thursday- Sunday, March 20-12, at the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center. Films are $6. The festival wraps up with a champagne and dessert awards ceremony hosted by Chad Oliver Sunday, March 23, at the Broadway Palm Theatre in Fort Myers. Tickets are $15. An after-party at the theater features a performance by Al Holland. Tickets are $15. For more information on all the films and events, visit www.fortmyersfilmfestival.com.

Click here for the latest story about the festival in Florida Weekly.

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