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Newport Beach Film Festival Review: “Where Is Nancy?” Explores the Personal Life and Tragic Outcome of Nancy Paulikas

Film poster: “Where Is Nancy?”

Where Is Nancy? (Thiago Dadalt, 2020) 3 out of 4 stars.

A film about the tragedy of Alzheimer’s disease, Where is Nancy? strikes a cord with viewers who have personal ties or know people who suffer from the condition. Audiences who have seen loved ones struggle with Alzheimer’s, or any disease that warps the minds of older individuals, cannot watch without feeling the impact and appreciating the information depicted here. In the case of this movie, we see the battle through the lens of family and friends of Nancy Paulikas, and not always through her own perspective.

Where is Nancy? tells the story of Nancy’s disappearance from a Los Angeles museum in 2016. Her husband, parents and friends tell of their personal relationship with Nancy, the kind of person she was before her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, and the various things that could have happened to her as an Alzheimer’s patient gone missing. At the same time, we are shown the big-picture analysis of what a person like Nancy, stricken with a degenerative disease and gone missing, would experience through talking to various folks in the L.A. area.

Still from WHERE IS NANCY? @D. Ellen Miller Productions

The film ties in the current climate in Los Angeles, breaking down Alzheimer’s disease and how it affects the individual, incorporating various doctors and city officials. It also includes in-depth and well-researched cinematography that reinforces the narrative and legacy Nancy left behind. A missing person, and someone diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, is always tragic, but the main questions that the film is burdened with answering are: “Why should I care about this particular person? What makes Nancy special?” In many ways, director Thiago Dadalt is able to accomplish this through due diligence and his choice to analyze the situation from as many angles as possible.

That being said, Where is Nancy? departs from Nancy’s individual story, going off to discuss more socio-political topics, as well. In many ways, it becomes clear that the documentary is using this information to theorize, rather than confirm. The film is at its best when it draws on the emotional side of the story, yet it necessarily competes with the information side of things and therefore wavers between fact finding and narrative. Visually, Where is Nancy? isn’t always able to keep up with the story, relying at times on subtle b-roll to move the film forward.

Still from WHERE IS NANCY? @D. Ellen Miller Productions

Regardless of where the pacing and message starts to stumble, Where is Nancy? is ultimately a powerful documentary full of reasons to tune in. Whether it be to rekindle the relatable and moving story of losing a loved one (either literally or figuratively through a degenerative disease), or to learn of the various and sometimes scary issues that exist in societies, Where is Nancy? will certainly tug at the heartstrings. To any individuals (or loved ones of individuals) who are coming to the end of life, the film will certainly open their eyes not only to the nature of Alzheimer’s disease, but to just how frightening it can be.

[Where Is Nancy? just played at the 2020 Newport Beach Film Festival.]


Adam Vaughn is a graduate of the Film & Moving Image program at Stevenson University, with a focus in Cinematography and Production. He also has a minor in Theater and Media Performance. Adam works as a freelance photographer and videographer, focusing his craft on creating compelling photographic and cinematic imagery. Adam is excited to join the Film Festival Today team and explore the world of cinema and visual arts.

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