An Unforgettable Story of Familial Love and Heartbreaking Choices, "Mimi and Dona" Premieres on Independent Lens

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14 November 2015
Mimi and Dona
Photo: Courtesy of Thorton Family
Independent Lens: "Mimi and Dona"
Premieres Monday, November 23, 2015 at 10:30 PM ET on PBS
(Check your local listings)
"Heart-wrenching. The film is as unflinching as it is beautiful, chronicling difficult decision-making that comes to involve the whole extended family."  
- The New York Times

          What happens when love runs out of time? For 92-year-old Mimi, who has spent her life caring for 64-year-old Dona, a daughter with an intellectual disability, it means facing the inevitable -- the likelihood that she will not outlive her daughter and the need to find her a new home. This poignant, heartbreaking, and sometimes humorous documentary traces the story of a wonderfully quirky and deeply connected mother-daughter duo -- filmmaker Sophie Sartain's grandmother and aunt.
          Since Mimi Thornton's husband died in 1968, she has lived with her daughter Dona in their suburban home in Dallas. Dona has an intellectual disability and possibly undiagnosed autism. Over the years, Mimi and Dona have carved out a happy life for themselves, one filled with errands, church, weekly visits to the beauty parlor, and nightly doses of "Wheel of Fortune." Frozen in time, they have lived off their Social Security checks, inside the same four walls, for forty years. But Mimi and Dona's symbiotic existence is about to end. Mimi's family has decided that she can no longer care for Dona, and Dona must leave home to live in a state-run institution. After 64 years, Mimi will have an empty nest and Dona will suddenly be on her own.
          In this powerfully personal documentary, Sartain chronicles the painful process of separating her aunt and grandmother. She also interviews her own mother and other family members, reaching back to explore the complicated legacy of Dona's disability on three generations of her Texas family and their history of family members with mental and developmental disabilities.

         Mimi and Dona's story speaks for the millions of families struggling with these issues. An estimated 4.6 million Americans have an intellectual or developmental disability and these individuals are living longer than ever before. And more than 75% of them live at home with family. What happens to people like Dona when aging family members can no longer care for them?
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