Head Full of Honey
by director/co-writer Til Schweiger
When scriptwriter Hilly Martinek approached me with the story of a ten-year-old girl who takes her grandfather on a journey to Venice in the hope of curing him from Alzheimer’s she didn’t know that I could relate to this story in a very personal way. As a young man I had been taking care of my dying grandfather who had in his last years also suffered from dementia, even though no one called it that then. In those days we attributed his antics to old age and did what we thought was the right thing to do: we corrected him whenever he mixed up names, dates or places, and tried to ignore his visible frustration with the ever-worsening loss of his memory. Hilly and I must have spent hours during this first meeting telling stories about my grandfather and her similarly afflicted father. Some of these stories were silly, some devastating, but all were in the spirit of how a loved one is never forgotten as long as someone still remembers him. Strangely enough, even though we knew instinctively that we both had had our hearts broken many times while we had accompanied these two men until they took their last breaths, what we both remembered were the times when they had surprised us with their wisdom, their childlike ability to be happy, or showed us love that was free from shame or shyness. Out of these stories Head Full of Honey was born.
Some thirty years after my grandfather’s passing, science has made major progress. But still, people living with Alzheimer’s are stigmatized and the consequences have the potential to be a severe threat to their well-being due to friends withdrawing from their life and family members frightened and unsure how to talk about the condition. The stigma leaves those suffering with the overwhelming feeling of loneliness.
While writing the German original, Honig im Kopf, it was—and still is—my goal to make the world of people living with Alzheimer’s (and their caregivers) accessible to as wide an audience as possible. This along with the alarming number of people suffering from dementia worldwide convinced me to create the international remake Head Full of Honey.
During the first days of Honey’s run in the cinemas, thousands of letters and emails from people living with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers poured into our offices; showing us the strong and personal impact our movie had. Seeing Amadeus through his granddaughter Matilda’s eyes gave people a unique opportunity to experience a relationship that is based on a child’s unbiased approach to her grandfather’s illness. We had based Matilda’s way of coping with her granddad’s illness on the way we—after a lot of research—thought Alzheimer’s patients would be treated best. Better than we could have hoped, Honey connected with the people affected by Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. It made—and keeps on making—a contribution to the fight against Alzheimer’s stigma by engaging a wider public in discussions about the disease, the need for prevention, and better treatment and care practices.
Apart from being a project we are truly proud of we hope that Head Full Of Honey can help the audiences who come to see it tackle one of the most difficult tasks life has to offer: to watch the person you love disappear. Unforeseeable for us, this movie has helped change people’s outlook on Alzheimer’s and the care given to those who are living with it. In the letters we got, one line occurred over and over again: “Had I seen this movie before, I would have found a much better way of coping with the hardships Alzheimer’s has brought to my family.” Head Full of Honey has never been an easy journey. But it turned out to be a blessing in so many ways.