Music and Memory

Spiritual Cinema Circle

Michael Rossato-Bennett is the writer, director and producer of Alive Inside — our September feature and winner of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award for U.S. Documentary — and the founder of The Alive Inside Foundation. We feel fortunate to have been able to speak with him about the film:

How did you come across Dan and his work?

I was hired to make a website for Dan Cohen, at the time he was bringing iPods and music to for nursing homes. I decided that I had to shoot some footage for the website and the second day of shooting I met Henry. Henry changed my life forever. I saw a man trapped for 10 years in a wheelchair set aside into the corner and I saw his soul light up when he was given the music of his youth. My own soul leapt to the sky. I've spent Decades of my own life healing my soul from the foolish decisions I've made to protect myself from my own early trauma. Within five minutes of meeting Henry I knew that I could make a film but they could bring joy to millions of Elders. I had no choice and I labored for three years to make that film. You are watching it now.

Was the connection between music and memory understood before? Has music been used therapeutically in this way before?

The discipline of music therapy is about 65 years old but music as therapy in healthcare setting has been used ever since the thirteenth century in Arabia. Music is probably the number one tool used in nursing homes, Dan's idea to use iPods is a new idea only possible since the Advent of digital technology. However in my opinion music is only half of the story, the other story is the story of human connection. If you watch the film will you will see me talking to every person who awakens. Music is incredibly powerful and twice as powerful when linked with love.

How did Oliver Sacks get involved in the film?

I love Oliver Sacks. When I saw no, felt Henry awaken I instantly thought of all of our in his book 'Awakenings.' I was incredibly grateful when Oliver said he would talk to me. I actually met with him several times and like all of us we're deeply moved by his spirit and deeply saddened by his passing.

Henry, Denise, Tom, Johnny, Mary Lou, Nell, and the other people in the film: have you or Dan visited them recently to see how they are doing?

Nell is still dancing and singing. Actually I assume the others are as well, but just not on this plane.

Do you think Alive Inside has had impact on care for those with dementia? Are nursing homes changing their fundamental approach to patients with dementia?

Refractive alive inside on the world consciousness is amazing. I don't think I will ever make a film again that will have is profound in effect on global consciousness. There's probably not a single person in Elder Care today that hasn't met Henry or seen a clip from the film. The film has actually changed the way people think about what is possible for elders living with dementia. in my next film I hope I can encourage the Next Generation to sit before their elders and learn from them as I had the opportunity to do making this film.

What was it like to win the audience award at Sundance?

When I was accepted to Sundance I was elated, I could not imagine a Greater Joy. However winning the Sundance audience award for documentary was a high point of my life.

Tell us a little about the Music and Memory project.

The film has propelled music in memory from four institutions to over 4,000. They are doing a great job but the work that needs to be done to make sure our elders are living humanely demands much more. We must change as a culture how we view aging and death. To do this we must change how we see life and our place in it. Music is the way we teach ourselves to dance with each other in the flow of life. This is the subject of my next film Alive Inside 2.

I feel it's very important for everyone to record their deepest and most emotional life song list. To help people do this I founded the Alive Inside Foundation and created the Alive Inside App. This free tool is available for anyone to download from

It's my dream that a million young people will be the ones who bring the gift of music to our elders. We are trying to create an empathy revolution in the Next Generation. For more information visit AliveInside.Org

And finally, what’s YOUR favorite song?

I like Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor. This was playing when I had my first kiss. Even today when I hear it I get goosebumps.