When her father Richard is diagnosed with dementia, documentary filmmaker Emma Francis-Snyder navigates a treacherous healthcare system and brings his memories to life through visualizing his unfinished novel. Blending documentary and narrative, ANATOMY OF A LIFE captures the emotional realities of end-of-life care.
ANATOMY OF A LIFE is a hybrid documentary film that explores the imagined end of life versus the reality. Richard is diagnosed with dementia, and Emma, his daughter, begins to film their experiences with elder care. As Richard becomes unable to care for himself, his alter ego from his unfinished novel, William Wainwright, comes into focus. Richard’s novel, The Cynical Optimist, is visualized on screen alongside verite scenes between Richard, Emma, and the healthcare system. This fictional world is a dark comedy about a man that kills himself, only to find himself in a bureaucratic afterlife. William was hoping to disappear, but instead is tasked with helping God streamline the services in heaven in exchange for eternal nothingness
On earth, Emma attempts to keep her ailing father’s home and not become a victim of the US eldercare system, which only provides care once you’ve lost everything. Without any knowledge or understanding of the eldercare system, she jumps in head first. Filmed over the course of several years, there are many emergencies and pressing needs to be dealt with immediately. Emma constantly finds herself racing in the car to help her father or on the phone with hospitals trying to sort out the most recent logistical nightmare. When we don’t see her doing the logistical work, her feelings are represented by visual representations, such as literally drowning.
The stakes are always high – her father’s literal life and livelihood are always in question. During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, in 2020 when the world was upside down, former Governor Cuomo passed a piece of legislation that made it harder for elders to get home care. Before this legislation, If you put your assets in a trust and then applied for home care through medicaid it was covered the next day. Now, one has to wait 3-5 years before it is covered- It becomes a rush against time and his health; can they get everything in order in time to keep him in his house without losing everything?