For over thirty years, Rebecca Carpenter has used film and art to help her understand topics that she finds challenging to grasp. Her professional career has spanned production capacities in film and television, as well as nonprofit and for-profit communications. She collaboratively forged a ground-breaking arts-integration program using her combined interest in art, critical thinking and public education and has used this approach to teaching in Los Angeles Unified School District Title I schools. Former media employers include Twentieth Century Fox, Warner Brothers Pictures, A & E Biography, Austin City Limits and PBS station KLRU in Austin, Texas. She has directed three other short films which have screened nationally. She graduated from Harvard University, and holds Masters degrees from the University of Texas – Austin and the University of Southern California.
More than anything, Requiem for a Running Back was a quest for forgiveness as I struggled to understand how I had missed the signs of dementia in my father. On the road for three years, I met dozens of families living with CTE, including the families of Mike Pyle (Chicago Bears), Ray Easterling (Atlanta Falcons), John Hilton (Pittsburgh Steelers) and Greg Lens (Atlanta Falcons) and documented their experiences, comparing them to my own family’s.
As much the Carpenters had struggled, many families wrestled with much more pervasive and devastating symptoms, yet we shared an isolation that is one of the most difficult aspects of navigating life with a loved one who has this form of dementia. I wanted the film to bring these families out of the shadows. I was also able to put my father’s passion for football, and the football life, into perspective, and fall in love with his world by using a new lens.
I had made two previous films that explored related topics - the first a documentary short Football Family (1994) in which I attempted to reach out to my dad, hoping that a camera could help repair a connection that had slipped just beyond my grasp. My second film, Detached (1998), was a narrative short that explored the relationship between a retired boxer with pugilistic dementia and his young daughter, who is mesmerized by his stories. Had I understood at the time that these films were signs that I did know something was wrong with my dad, my relationship with him might have been so different.
The CTE diagnosis was both a shock and a gift. It gave me the opportunity to revisit his life, and our life together, and to experience him in the way I believe he would have wanted me to in the first place. Our fragmented relationship was returned to wholeness.
The film was conceived of by Producer Sara Dee, who saw a film in the emotional journey I was going through after my father’s death and diagnosis. She suggested that she produce, and I direct, and I was reluctant to leave my profession at the time (I was a single mom, teaching in elementary school and just finishing my master’s degree - so leaving the “known” for the unknown was a tremendous risk!), but instinctively I understood that there was something “important” about it. I am eternally grateful to her for her vision and persistence, as well as Executive Producer Max Mayer’s belief that this was a story that deserved to be told. This film is also a tribute to the many talented and passionate artists who engaged in a collaboration that was intimate, powerful, and delicate.
My hope is that the film can be a gateway for people to begin difficult conversations about the unique challenges of loving someone who has dementia, as well as to place dementia firmly within our cultural narrative about football without blaming or shaming the victims.