Part 1 of 2. Stop back in the coming days for an interview with talented filmmakers J.T. Arbogast and Kimberly Dilts.
I’ve always said that caring for a loved one who has Alzheimer’s is like joining a club you never wanted to be a part of. It’s truly an experience that can only be understood by those who have been through it and witnessed its wrath.
Independent Filmmaking At Its Finest
Obviously, my curiosity was piqued immediately when I heard about Angel’s Perch, an independent film released earlier this summer. The filmmaker, J.T. Arbogast, lost his grandmother to Alzheimer’s in 2008, so it was logical that he would be more than qualified to make a movie on the subject. …And was he ever!!
We hosted a sold out screening of Angel’s Perch here in Columbus and received a myriad of rave reviews. Sometimes even silence speaks volumes, and that was the case when at the end of the movie as the credits rolled, not a soul moved. You could have heard a pin drop in the theater – it was as though we all needed a few moments to absorb the tremendous story we had just seen played out on the giant screen before us. I really don’t have words to describe how I felt as I was leaving the event.
A Picture Painted Through Real Life Experience
The story begins with Jack (played by Arbogast) on the verge of winning a potentially career-changing contract for his architectural firm. Like so many of us, one minute, life is normal – and then the phone rings, and in a split second the world is turned upside down.
His grandmother had just been found wandering, and her long-time caregiver, Betsy, was calling to explain what had happened. The incident sparked increased worries that living alone was beginning to compromise Polly’s safety. Understandably very concerned, in the midst of preparing for an important client presentation, Jack packed a bag, jumped in the car, and drove to West Virginia.
One of the most poignant scenes in the film takes place when Arbogast’s character walks into his Polly’s house, sets his things down, and quietly gazes around the living room. Photographs and reminders of happier days; memories of special times spent with his grandmother over the years whirl through his mind.
I knew that feeling, as I had experienced similar moments in my own mother’s house. Later, I learned much of the filming, including that scene, actually took place in Arbogast’s grandmother’s house. Is it any wonder Jack’s experience felt so real?
From Historic Logging Town to Movie Set
The film is set in Cass, West Virginia, a tiny spec of a town that was home to a booming paper mill in the early 1900’s. After the industry’s collapse, Arbogast’s grandparents had a hand in saving the town by convincing the powers-that-be to make it part of the state park system. In 1961, it became Cass Scenic Railroad State Park.
The same steam engine used to transport logs still carries many visitors on a scenic ride that combines a bit of history with some absolutely stunning views. Ironically, we had taken my mom to Cass for an autumn ride on the railroad several years before Alzheimer’s began to slowly wage war on her mind. Looking back, such a fond memory.
I don’t want to give away too much because you must find a way to see Angel’s Perch yourself. However, I can promise you a beautifully tender story peppered with moments of humor that will strike a chord with anyone who has traveled the Alzheimer’s journey. Only a member of our special “club” could make a movie so on point; there were scenes that could have literally been plucked right out of my life.
The cast is phenomenal. Joyce Van Patten plays Polly so perfectly that you really forget she’s acting; I don’t know how she prepared for the role, but her portrayal is brilliant. Likewise, Arbogast’s Jack is authentic and believable – watching him deal with the emotional rollercoaster ride that comes with the disease was at times like looking in the mirror.
Ellen Crawford played Polly’s long-time caregiver and family friend beautifully. Her character, Betsy, clearly wrestled with her own emotions as she watched the Alzheimer’s progress, just as I watched my mom’s caregivers struggle with what was happening to the woman they had come to love.
Rounding out the cast were Ashley Jones as Jack’s adorable “girl-next-door” childhood friend, Ally Walker, who played a hilarious Judy – the resident beautician and town busybody and gossip, Jesse Sharp as Jack’s ambitious business partner, Kevin, and Elisabeth Hower as Jack’s wife, Sarah. Last but not least, two of Cass’ own made their big screen debuts in the film!
Local Talent Shines
Doc Snyder was portrayed by Green Bank resident, Mike Holstine, and Homer Hunter, of Stony Bottom, played Delbert, the endearing postman who was apparently rather popular with the ladies. Arbogast hit the nail on the head, saying Hunter “just about steals the film way from everyone else… he’d never acted a day in his life, but you sure wouldn’t have known it by his performance.” There was no question that the audience fell in love with him!
What is Tugg?
Arbogast and his wife, producer Kimberly Dilts, released the film through a relatively new distribution channel that allows people just like you and I to bring the film to our own local theaters. Kim said the grassroots method of getting the film in theaters “requires much more elbow grease, but it’s very gratifying.”
If you’re interested in hosting a local screening, visit Tugg.com to learn more. All of the folks I dealt with there were extremely encouraging and helpful; my primary promotional tool was social media, and as mentioned, we sold all of the seats! I definitely recommend giving it a go; through the experience I met some lovely people and we were able to raise almost $300 for our local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.
Made With Love and It Shows
In closing, let me say that from the cast to the cinematography to the story itself, this film is a winner. Made on a shoestring budget that began with a Kickstarter campaign, in my opinion, Angel’s Perch would easily stand up alongside any film on the festival circuit. I hope it reaches each and every person reading this post; in just 90 short minutes, it will make you laugh, cry, and feel every emotion in between. This movie was made with love, and I promise it will truly touch your heart.
J.T. Arbogast is a Los Angeles-based writer, actor, and producer with a number of stage, film, and television credits. Prior to his arrival in LA, he spent four years as the Associate Director of the critically acclaimed National Comedy Theatre in New York, of which he was also an original cast member.
Kimberly Dilts is a producing artist who works as an actor, director, choreographer, writer, and teacher. She has a number of stage and television credits, and enjoys voicing Anime. She also served as Director of Operations for The Haitian Education and Leadership Program for several years.