Journalist and Alzheimer’s Association Celebrity Champion Richard Lui’s documentary “UNCONDITIONAL” is a first of its kind film on a topic affecting 100 million Americans – mental health. As the film follows three different families turning the corner, relearning how to love, the film focuses on something that is “both a hidden wound and a hidden strength in all of us.”
The choice you take
It’s not wrong to be brave
I know one day you will find a place
Somewhere growing with flowering grace
The words that open the revealing caregiving film “UNCONDITIONAL” hit home for anyone facing a difficult journey, a battle, a struggle. And while caregiving has many blessings, it is also one of the hardest things a person or family can take on for their loved one. Everyone involved needs support, love and a voice to tell their story.
“UNCONDITIONAL” shows the changing phases family members experience in their role as a caregiver. “As a journalist, it is in our muscle set to understand the emotions behind a story and get it out in a way that helps people,” Richard says. “As a caregiver, that has helped me move down the road faster: I dive in, I figure out what needs to be done. The flip side is sometimes that we need to stop to check our own mental and physical health. And I know it has taken a toll.”
Filmed over the span of seven years, “UNCONDITIONAL” explores the nuances of mental health that 100 million Americans experience each year. The documentary focuses on topics that are incredibly relevant in the month of May, including Mental Health Awareness Month, Month of the Military Caregiver, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and Women's Health Month.
Focused on self-discovery and mental wellness, the film profiles three stories of caregiving, including that of a husband and caregiver facing his wife’s terminal cancer diagnosis; a marathon runner helping her family and her military husband face the aftermath of war; and the story of Richard, turning the camera on himself and his own family. Every week, Richard traveled coast-to-coast, New York City to San Francisco, to care for his dad, Stephen, who passed away from Alzheimer’s in December 2021.
A commitment to caregiving
In 2016, we sat down to talk with Richard about his role as a long-distance caregiver for his dad
. “I stay with my parents when I come back so I can observe the nuances and changes…how it’s difficult for Dad to brush his teeth or walk down the block to get a haircut,” Richard said then. “Sometimes it’s hard to put on a strong face, but I do what I can to help my Mom, who is Dad’s primary caregiver.”
In this new stirring documentary, Richard captures precious moments between his parents, including a moment where his mom played the violin for his dad while he listened from his hospital bed. “They were never lovey-dovey before his disease,” Richard reflects. “To see the way my mom took care of him, it is almost as if she learned how to fall in love with him again. I don’t think she would have found that out without going on this journey, and in which she has given so much of herself. As difficult as everything has been, our family shared the exhaustion, the pain and the rewards together.”
Today, Richard regularly travels back to San Francisco to care for his mom, who was recently diagnosed with vascular dementia. When he thinks about his dad, Richard knows that his soul would say that this was good for the rest of his family, teaching them all lessons about how to come together to battle Alzheimer’s and dementia as a tight-knit team. “It was tough, but we all got better, somehow.”
: “UNCONDITIONAL" is available in 14 markets nationwide at AMC Theaters from May 3 to 9, and on public television stations nationwide starting in May. For each ticket sold at AMC, a donation will go to the Alzheimer's Association, Elizabeth Dole Foundation, and/or the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers. Tickets are available here. Learn more about the film and other ways to view.
Richard Lui is a journalist and news anchor for MSNBC and NBC News known for his humanitarian charity work.