PORT TOWNSEND — When you see a good movie, one that sweeps you off your feet, you bring with you an emotional memory. It’s the same with any delicious work of art: The movie, song or symphony touches the amygdala, the part of the brain where moods and emotions live.
And that part, according to neuroscientist Dr. John Zeisel, stays vibrant despite dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Zeisel, author of “I’m Still Here: A New Philosophy of Alzheimer’s Care,” has devoted his life to studying the brain, memory and emotion. In 2006, he helped launch a program for people with memory loss at the Tribeca Film Institute in New York City.
That program, titled “Meet Me at the Movies,” comes to the North Olympic Peninsula this Tuesday.
Admission is free to the 90-minute presentation, created for viewers with memory loss and their care partners, at 1 p.m. at the Rose Theatre, 235 Taylor St.
Doors will open 30 minutes before show time, and it’ll be first come, first seated in the 158-seat theater.
An audience discussion will come after each clip.
The term “care partners” comes from Mary Jane Knecht, who studied with Zeisel to shape a Meet Me at the Movies series for Seattle’s Frye Art Museum, where she runs the Creative Aging art program.
The term includes not only the primary physical caregiver, but also the family members and friends beside someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. They are all welcome at the movies.
For that matter, “It’s totally enjoyable by any adult,” Knecht added. “What’s wonderful is seeing grandchildren coming with their grandparents.”
For Tuesday’s screening, she’s assembled clips from classic and contemporary pictures including the epic “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962), “The Right Stuff,” 1983’s drama about the Mercury 7 astronauts, and the documentary “Mission Blue” (2014), about oceanographer Sylvia Earle and her work to establish a global network of marine sanctuaries.
The theme is exploration, and theatergoers will have a chance to watch the clips and then talk a bit about them.
Knecht has hosted the program at the Frye for three years now, and looked out into the audience to see plain old joy on the faces of the viewers.
Previous series have featured clips from “The Wizard of Oz,” Charlie Chaplin’s “The Circus” and the Beatles’ “Hard Day’s Night,” with discussions around questions such as “Who’s your favorite Beatle?” And to Knecht’s delight, there have been viewers who saw the Beatles in concert.
She’s chosen a new slate of clips this time around. With “Lawrence of Arabia,” she hopes to hear not only about people’s memories of seeing the movie, but perhaps also about their experiences traveling in the desert.
The main thing, Knecht said, is just to get people talking and laughing, “and to have a break,” she said, from the day-to-day. She also picks out music to play while people are coming into the theater, so they can enjoy a mellow introduction.
Knecht recalled that when she showed the “The Wizard of Oz” clip, “two wonderful things happened.”
A woman in the theater spoke up about her own Kansas girlhood; then the audience joined voices to sing “Over the Rainbow.”
Knecht, who lives part-time in Chimacum, is a longtime friend of Rose Theatre owner Rocky Friedman, who will introduce Tuesday’s program.
“I’ve been looking forward to this for years,” he said, adding that he’s heard from people who do not have dementia, but are enthused about “Meet Me at the Movies.”
Besides the screenings at the Frye, “Meet Me” has come to the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art and to King County Library system branches, but this is the first time it will be on this side of Puget Sound.
Because it’s a quarterly program, new editions of the film series will come to the Rose each quarter through 2018.
The free screenings, all at 1 p.m., are set for May 22, with the theme of aging; Aug. 21 with a Pacific Northwest theme and Nov. 13 with clips on the theme of animals.
In her news release about the series, Knecht quoted a rave review from a woman who took her sibling to a “Meet Me” program.
“These sessions bring up shared memories,” and lead to deeper talks about their shared past, the woman said.
But most important, the program “gives us time to just be ourselves, two sisters enjoying each other’s company.”
Diane Urbani de la Paz is a freelance writer and photographer living in Port Townsend.