On October 2016, 55-year-old Nancy Paulikas was visiting the LA Museum with her family and friends. On their trip, Nancy went to the bathroom and never returned. This is her story and the Screen Critix review of director Thiago Dadalt’s Alzheimer documentary ‘Where Is Nancy?’
As the majority of us know, dementia is the name for a set of symptoms that includes memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving and/or language. Dementia develops when the brain is damaged by physically progressive diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Our brains are made up of billions of nerve cells that connect to each other. In Alzheimer’s disease, connections between these cells are interrupted because proteins build up and form abnormal structures called ‘plaques’ and ‘tangles’. Eventually, nerve cells die and brain tissue is lost. Gradually, over time, more parts of the brain are damaged leading to more symptoms developing and sufferers getting worse and worse.
Currently, in the UK there are more than 520,000 people who have dementia caused by Alzheimer’s while in the US there are 5 million people with the disease. All across the world, it is estimated that 50 million people suffer from Alzheimer’s and, as the world’s population ages and we all live longer, all of these numbers are set to triple over the next 40 years.
Thiago Dadalt’s new documentary ‘Where Is Nancy’ helps sheds some more light onto this increasingly serious epidemic by focusing on the story of one missing woman, Nancy Paulikas, and her family’s quest to find her.
Nancy was the only child of affluent parents who had many facets to her character, she was a very intelligent child who learned to read at 2 years old. She became a software engineer, a certified pilot, was an avid reader, loved animals and music, developed into a fine skier and enjoyed backpacking. It was a fascination while learning all of this about Nancy’s character that led Dadalt to begin his project.
Following two years in the lives of Nancy’s family as they search for her, Dadalt has created a fascinating documentary that is not only informative and uplifting in its execution but also touching and extremely moving. It is a pleasure to spend our time with this family from Nancy’s loyal and loving husband Kirk Moody to her amazing parents Dr. George Paulikas (a retired scientist) and her mum Joan. The absolute love these people have for Nancy is palpable and Dadalt does an amazing job in helping this emotion ooze through the screen. The choice of music in the early scenes of a simple piano concerto repeated is beautifully melodic; it carries us through on a wave of grace and emotion and sticks in your mind so much so you miss it when it’s not playing.
The opening few minutes of the documentary uses a lot of drone footage of LA and there are extra shots like them dotted throughout the 80-minute runtime. These epic pictures are not only beautiful to look at but they also help to give us a sense of how big the City of LA is and how futile the families quest seems to be. Looking for Nancy in a city of 4 million people that is this vast is like looking for a very small needle in a very large haystack. However despite increasingly dwindling odds, the family is never perturbed, they never give up and their determination leads the audience to enthusiastically support them on their quest throughout the picture.
Dadalt also finds time in his documentary to show us LA’s homelessness problem with a few shocking minutes spent on Skid Row. He helps educate us about the causes of dementia with scenes involving doctors, and specialists and also highlights the procedures and techniques law enforcement use when looking for missing people.
In his director notes to us, Dadalt wrote
“My hope for this film is that it will inspire empathy, compassion and become a catalyst for change to a failing system”.
Dadalt manages to achieve all of those things and then some. The movie is about to premiere at The Cinequest festival in Silicon Valley and at the end of March The AMDOCS festival in Palm Springs if you are around any of these festivals at the time of its showing I highly recommend you catch it if you can.
‘Where Is Nancy’ is an absolute triumph that combines all aspects of documentary filmmaking into one magnificent piece of work. Not only does the film entertain, educate and surprise you, it also manages to be uplifting whilst simultaneously moving you to tears.