En español | Even before he began filming the millennial and Gen Z caregivers who look after military veteran family members for his documentary, Sky Blossom: Diaries of the Next Greatest Generation, journalist and director Richard Lui was already aware of the sacrifices that caregivers are asked to make.
Seven years ago, Lui's father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, putting Lui in a predicament familiar to many caregivers: figuring out how to balance caregiving with a full-time job.
"I wasn't sure whether I'd be able to keep my job or not,” he said.
To Lui's surprise, his boss was a long-distance caregiver, too, and allowed him to provide care for his father during the week and maintain his job as a national news anchor on the weekends.
As Lui began his caregiver journey, he found that the difficult experiences brought his family closer together. This birthed the concept of Sky Blossom, a film salute to the children and millennials who are going to school, holding down jobs and living out their youth, while at the same time looking after a veteran family member with serious medical conditions.
In total, there are 24.5 million children and millennials who care for the nation's disabled veterans and other adults, according to the film's producers, using data from an AARP report.
Despite the film's heavy subject matter, Lui said it carries an uplifting message. He compared it with the tributes that erupted in cities across the country for health care workers on the front lines fighting the coronavirus.
"This is that clap at seven o'clock. This is that screaming out the window. This is that resilience. It is a good moment,” he said.
The AARP-cosponsored film has received a 2020 Movies for Grownups nomination.
What is a sky blossom?
Paratroopers rushing to the aid of wounded troops were often called “sky blossoms.” In the film, the phrase is repurposed as a title for the younger generations who are heeding the older generations’ call of need.
Lui said he chose to focus on younger caregivers because there's little discussion about them. Millions are pulled away from their lives and budding careers, yet they are not widely recognized.
Despite the age of these caregivers, Lui said that older adults will find inspiration in the cross-generational aspects of the stories featured. “It shows how, even though groups are different, we are all the same.”
Lui would ultimately like to see the conversation change within the caregiving space so that those unfamiliar with caregiving can understand the efforts provided to those in need.
"I think if you're a caregiver and 50-plus, you'll look at it and go, ‘Wow,’ “ he said. “These kids have to start now, and they have to care for such [severe] conditions. Me caring for my father's Alzheimer's is not like Deryn caring for her father, who's a double amputee and has flesh eating bacteria, [since] she [was] 9.” Deryn is one of the young caregivers featured in the film.
Three years with the families
The production team filmed each of the five families over the course of three years, using the same team during the entire filming process.
"This allowed us to document how these young teens and 20-somethings grew up, and grew into their roles as caregivers,” Lui said.
Animated scenes by Davy Liu, who worked on Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King, were added to illustrate the heroic acts the kids did off camera, each with their own musical theme heard throughout the film's score.
Although the caregivers are the main subject, director Lui said it was hard to resist telling the veterans’ stories. “The interviews with each of the families were so honest and raw, unlike anything I've seen in my 25-year long career as a journalist,” said Lui in a statement. “I left each interview inspired by the courage of these teens and 20-somethings."
Amid all the emotions, the film is “a reason to cheer through unexpected tears,” he said.
Lui found the families’ “expression of vulnerabilities” to be one of the most poignant aspects of putting the film together.
"It's always been a very much passionate experience for me. You find yourself laughing and crying, and crying and laughing,” he said.
Despite watching the film over and over, each time he sees the dedication to his parents and siblings it reminds him of why he started documenting caregivers in the first place.
"When that credit comes up at the end. It kills me every time.” he said. “Because I wouldn't have done it, if it weren't for them."
Editor’s note: This article, originally published Nov. 2, 2020, has been updated with a list of regional screenings.