Anthony Arnone | October 03, 2022

Documentary on Dementia Wins Four Awards

Broadcasting professor and students produce documentary to help raise awareness for dementia.
Ginny Orzel in her office with all her awards

The Fight for Your Life is an award-winning documentary by Virginia Orzel, Professor of Journalism, Broadcasting, and Public Relations (JRB). The documentary educates the audience on the different forms of dementia such as Lewy Body, Parkinson’s, Frontotemporal, and Alzheimer’s from the perspective of caregivers (often family members), doctors, and patients.

“Dementia is a topic we aren’t talking about. Caregivers are suffering in silence and don’t know what to do,” Orzel said. “The documentary helps caregivers understand the different stages of the disease and where you can go to get help. No one fights alone.”

The film won three Awards of Merit from the Impact DOCS Awards for Featured Documentary, Women Filmmakers, and Health Science and Medical. Orzel and her students also won a Silver Telly Award in the Non Broadcast Low Budget film category.

Orzel conducted most of the interviews in the documentary while broadcasting students Isaac DeLeon and Kyle O’Gara filmed them. She also recruited JRB major Mya Coleman during the editorial process to help create the graphics.

“It is really an honor to win an award with my students,” Orzel said. “I let them know right away when we won the awards that since we were partners on this, they earned the award too.”

The process for creating the nationally recognized documentary was far from easy - resulting in Orzel nearly dropping the project multiple times.

In 2019, Orzel worked with social work and healthcare professors at Brockport to connect with members of the community who specialize and work with patients suffering from dementia. That included social worker Carol D’Agostino, who played a key role helping Orzel set up interviews for the documentary.

“Caregivers did not want to talk on camera because the topic is so tough to discuss,” Orzel said. “Carol helped break down that barrier and convince them this was something worth talking about.”

With the help of her students, Orzel shot most of the footage she would need for the documentary by the start of 2020. The last major piece of the documentary left to film involved entering local nursing homes to film groundbreaking technology in use. Days after attending the Dr. Lemuel and Gloria Rogers Health Symposium to gather more information on dementia from experts in the field, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the country into shutdown.

Orzel decided to put the documentary on hold until she received clearance to film inside nursing homes. clearance she never received.

I never filmed this portion of the project due to the protocols in nursing homes. By October I had to ask myself if I could move forward without it.
Virginia Orzel

Orzel got creative. She began searching online for videos using sound technology involving patients with dementia and asked the creators for their permission to use their videos. She also asked members of the community she had met earlier in the project to help film using their cellphone and send the footage to her.

“The footage was noticeably different from what we filmed and I had to ask myself ‘am I sacrificing quality using this type of footage?’” Orzel said. “I wanted to, and decided to, quit multiple times during this process, but the next day I would wake up and force myself to move forward and I’m really glad I did.”

The documentary was picked up within a week of Orzel sending it to distributors. A month later, she won her first Silver Telly. Three months later, she earned three prestigious awards of merit from The Impact DOCS Awards Competition.