Deirdre Fishel is a Brooklyn-based documentary filmmaker, best known for her dramatic feature film Risk, which premiered at Sundance; as well as two documentary features Still Doing It and Sperm Donor X, and The Boy Game, a hybrid doc/drama about gender straitjacketing among middle school boys.
She is currently in post-production on another ambitious project: CARE about the financial burden of home elder care in America. She follows several families and health care workers, and focuses on the cultural and economic factors that contribute to a crippling health care system that bankrupts its citizens, and underpays care providers.
Fishel’s film CARE has been backed by major granting foundations (McArthur & Ford) but due to a funding gap is raising additional funds through a Kickstarter campaign. (We need to get Fishel and her team back into the editing room, as quickly as possible.)
To get the full scoop, click here.
Deirdre Fishel discusses her new upcoming film with WG News + Arts:
What is your biggest motivation for making the film “CARE”?
Ten years ago I made a film about women over 65, aging with vitality because I saw so many women like my mother (who was in her 70’s) being nothing like the stereotypes. It outraged me that women who were so vital were being totally ignored by the mainstream. But it’s a decade later and my mother at 87 is quite frail now. Yet she, like so many others, is adamant about aging at home.
So I started to investigate home care for her future and I was just totally shocked by what I found—a system where workers are underpaid and undertrained, and where many families like mine, thinking that Medicare pays for home care, are losing their life savings paying for care. With our exploding elder population, I thought somebody had to be making a film about this. I was amazed when I found out nobody was. So I stepped up to do it because I really do believe this is one of the biggest issues of the 21st century: how are we going to care for our aging population with real dignity, and at the same time train and compensate the folks who do this precious work.
Were you trepidatious about taking on such a big subject?
Yes! I was terrified. Which is why I enlisted my mentor, producer Tony Heriza (Concrete, Steel & Paint) to work with me. On the other hand I just have felt compelled from the beginning both by how underreported this issue is and by the amazing moments of care I’ve seen, the beauty and humanity of dignified hands-on care.
What were you most worried about?
I was most worried about telling the story in a way that was really emotionally compelling, where audiences could identify with the characters in the film, but where the film made people want to know more and become engaged in the bigger issues.
So far, what is the biggest satisfaction with the film and what is the message, that you feel you have successfully conveyed through your documentary?
My biggest satisfaction is definitely the power of the stories of the workers, of the elders, and the families of both. Despite how much the bigger system is failing, these relationships, and hands on care, are deeply human and beautiful, and audiences are getting that! A key message is that elder care has real value. We know from audiences that the film really successfully shows the complexity, difficulty, and importance of this work. That message is key because if care has real value then we need to account for it, to be thinking about it for ourselves, and our loved ones, and also if it has real value it should be properly compensated so workers can take care of their own families and come back the next day ready to do the best job possible.
How did you find the families whom you profile?
It was a process of going to everyone I knew as well as to organizations on all sides of the issue. Then once we found families it was about getting everyone in the situation to be open to filming. We had one situation where the client and her family were open to being filmed, but the worker wasn’t. We had several where the workers were open, but the family wasn’t. Ultimately these stories are so intertwined. So it took us about a year to find the families where we could really show the complexity and interdependency of how care plays out.
Has shooting the film been a difficult or easy process? What challenges have you been faced with it?
It’s been incredibly hard. Look at the way this issue is playing out in our country. I mean how is it that we aren’t planning for our aging population to age with dignity? How is it that our care work force is so exploited that we aren’t attracting nearly enough folks to the job so that we’re headed for a massive care gap in the coming decades? How? We’re in denial. Americans have a preoccupation with action/movement/production and a fear of death/aging/vulnerability. So we’re up against this fundamental American philosophy of we won’t age, we’ll just pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Our culture doesn’t acknowledge the real human life cycle—especially now that we’re living so long—that if we get old enough, we will get frail and that’s normal, that’s a part of life. That’s why this film is so badly needed because we need to inspire state commissions to be grappling with how to deliver care. We need a culture change. So yes it’s been incredibly difficult and yet the sense of purpose we feel is extraordinary. It’s one foot in front of the other. It’s going to be like this for years, because we’re not going to stop. And we’re inspired by the work of so many activists around us, like Ai-jen Poo, devoting their lives to improving care in America.
Does Obamacare policy figure into what you are doing?
Yes and no. There were attempts to put long term care into Obamacare and they totally failed because they were voluntary and people just knew that unless you had a lot of folks joining together it was going to fail. The resistance that Obamacare has gotten is also the resistance to the kind of approach to elder care that most industrialized countries have, where there is real national support.
That said, we need to start a bi-partisan conversation about this. Everyone, if they’re lucky, is going to get old, and 90% of those people want to age at home. There are things to be done in the health care delivery system and working with Medicare that could save costs, but they have to come up to speed and scale. Caregivers could help tremendously with prevention and keep many elders out of the emergency room and surgeries. Turnover among care workers costs billions of dollars a year.
Please explain that further.
Turnover costs money, because you need to retrain people, because you have to coordinate and get new people on the job. Any industry would suffer if there was huge turnover rate. And this is a very complicated job. We’re talking about working with people who have dementia and Parkinson’s. That doesn’t account for all care work, but those complicated cases do account for the huge rise in the need for caregivers. Investment in creating a stable, well trained work force makes economic sense in the long run, but it may take some investment. So we need to grapple with this. And we need to join across party lines to do this.
How does your film coincide with a presidential election year coming up?
It coincides because that’s one of the reasons we want to get this film finished and out this Fall. This is too big an issue not be on the public agenda of the next presidential election. That is one of our great hopes for it. We have an opportunity as a country to grapple with this issue before we hit a crisis, but the time to grapple is now. So yes a major goal is to get the film out ahead of the Presidential election to create press and consciousness around this issue.
What filmmakers (of docs or other) have inspired you?
Many films have inspired me. I love docs where you fall in love with the characters and really feel their ups and downs. Films like Love and Diane and The Interrupters. But probably the film that inspired me the most for CARE was a dramatic film called Amour. It was about a man taking care of his wife after a stroke. And the images of him bathing her, and caring for her, were ones that I had never seen. And that was a revelation for me. Here is this major part of life happening everywhere behind closed doors, but we’ve never seen it. That’s saying a lot about how much this part of our lives isn’t being grappled with. And while they were difficult images, I also saw this incredible beauty to them that I wanted to share. So that film was a huge inspiration for me to make the commitment, and say yes I’m going to begin production on CARE.