Steve James is a big name in the documentary world. Heck, “Life Itself,” his affectionate tribute to Chicago film critic Roger Ebert, is the Closing Night film at this year AFI DOCS festival. Although he’s worked in the biz since the 1980s, he came to prominence as the director-producer-writer-editor-narrator of “Hoop Dreams,” which won a slew of awards (including the best directorial achievement in documentary/actuality from the Directors Guild of America) in 1995. And this week he’s double dipping, showcasing his short film “A Place Called Pluto” at AFI DOCS in front of the feature “Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory.” It previously played at the Tribeca Film Festival in April.
Memory and focus is what “A Place Called Pluto” is all about. Losing it. When Greg O’Brien, a renowned Cape Cod newspaper journalist, is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, James is there to document the challenges faced by the entire O’Brien clan, to capture the daily struggles as the writer tries to remember the “who, where, what, when, why, and how of (his) life.” An avid runner, every day he hopes the blood rushing to his brain during his twilight run will halt the confusion. His wife, Mary Catherine, and their three grown kids (Brendon, Colleen, Conor) chime in with concerns. For him. For them. Greg is this strong Irish family’s breadwinner and now they’re trying to pick up the crumbs. It sucks.
At just 10 minutes, this is just a taste, a heartfelt one, of the tragedy this disease unleashes. It was made as part of the “Living with Alzheimer’s” series, created and executive produced by David Shenk.