The subtitle of Michelle Boyaner’s new documentary, It’s Not a Burden, is “The humor and heartache of raising elderly parents,” and that’s certainly a fair appraisal. You might think a film on the topic of caring for parents as they’re failing would be a tough slog, but It’s Not a Burden is anything but: it’s hilarious and touching. Boyaner’s elderly parents are both extraordinary characters: her mom, a Jew who bore eight children, then left the family and became a Mormon, turns dementia and hair loss into a deadpan comedy schtick; her dad is a sweet-tempered, self-confessed hoarder. Boyaner is patient with them but no saint: she certainly knows the material she’s gleaning is priceless. And now, you can stream it on iTunes (it became available this week) or buy it on DVD.
Boyaner’s last feature, 2015’s Packed in a Trunk: The Lost Art of Edith Lake Wilkinson, brought her to Provincetown, where Wilkinson did her best work. That’s how she met Evette Ramirez, the wife of Christine McCarthy, CEO of the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, and owner of Esthetics by Evette, a local facial spa. Ramirez became one of the dozens of people Boyaner filmed tending to their elderly parents. Also among them was Ilene Mitnick, former owner of the bed and breakfast Roux.
“I got involved at the very last minute,” Ramirez says. Though she’s been here since 1995, she says she always visited Phoenix, Ariz., where she grew up. “My father had Parkinson’s. As the disease progressed, I would go out five times a year, to help with doctor’s appointments.”
The filmmakers loved the teasing repartee between Ramirez and her dad, Robert, who was in the military — he calls her a “drill sergeant” and “a powerhouse.”
“I told them he was kind of quiet, but when they arrived, he talked to them for hours,” Ramirez says. “He said, ‘I didn’t want them to think I wasn’t a nice, friendly guy.’ ” Robert died soon after.
He wasn’t the only one. “After they filmed us in Phoenix, Michelle’s mother passed away,” Ramirez says. The film doesn’t dwell in sadness, however. The intimacy gained is the whole point of the experience. It’s not a burden, indeed. —Howard Karren