Crow's Feet Podcast

Meet the Award-Winning Filmmaker Whose Stars Are Elders

March 22, 2023 Crow's Feet Season 2 Episode 6
Crow's Feet Podcast
Meet the Award-Winning Filmmaker Whose Stars Are Elders
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Show Notes Transcript
Host Jan M Flynn talks with Sky Bergman, a filmmaker raised in an intergenerational household where she developed a lifelong fascination with the magic that can happen when elders and young people have the chance to interact. Best known for her feature-length film “Lives Well Lived”— which has won awards, garnered rave reviews, and has the rare and coveted “100% fresh” rating from Rotten Tomatoes — Sky is also a filmmaker whose work focuses on the inspiration and wisdom offered by people in their later years, and the gifts they offer younger people when the generations are brought together. She is the former chair of the Art & Design department at Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo, California and is currently a professor of photography and video.  Learn more about the film and about Sky at her website,

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Unknown: VOICE 1:

A life well lived is accomplishing your goals, being happy.


Just being endlessly engaged in whatever your passion is to be


To be able to set a goal and try to achieve it


To be very contented within your own skin and to be there very self accepting


a lot of luck and being involved in something that you really enjoyed doing,


To have the respect of the people that are closest to you and that you love, taking chances and risking


Live one day at a time. Tomorrow up soon enough.


This is Crow's Feet, a place where we ponder the question, Are these our golden years? Or does aging just suck? Well, yes, getting older is not for the faint hearted. But aging also brings wisdom and humor, a finely tuned perspective on life. In our podcast, you'll meet writers and others rethinking our later years, people who inspire us to reimagine our future.

Jan M. Flynn:

I'm Jan M. Flynn. I'm a writer whose work appears on Crow's Feet. And our guest today is Sky Bergman, a photographer, professor, and award-winning filmmaker whose work focuses on the wisdom and perspective offered by elders. And the magic that can happen when older and younger generations are brought together. Sky is the former Chair of the Art and Design Department at Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo, California, where she is currently a professor of photography and video. And she is now the recipient of a prestigious Innovation Fellowship from CO generate sky. Welcome to the show.

Sky Bergman:

Thank you so much for having me,


So, let's dig right into your feature film, Lives Well Lived.


I didn't even know that the 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes was the thing. But apparently, it's a pretty big deal. And it's lovely because this was my first film. And it really came out of a love of my grandmother, the relationship that I had with my grandmother. And I grew up in a four generational household. So I was really lucky to have not only my grandmother, but my great grandmother live when I was growing up. But my grandmother and I had a really special bond. And when I started working on the film, I was looking at approaching 50. And here's my grandmother who is 100. And she was just amazing and still going strong and very active and engaged, while all I was seeing in the media was everything that

you could do to avoid aging:

anti-aging creams, everything about seeming youthful. But you know, there's nothing positive about aging, and let's face it, we're all going to age, that's the one thing that we have in common is that we age every day.


So I really wanted to highlight what the positive side of aging can be and to find other people out there, like my grandmother, who are living full and meaningful lives, and who could be my role model really, for what it meant to move beyond I think. Turning 50, comes as a big marker for a lot of people, especially women. It was for me. And so I think to look at what are the positives? What's the positive outlook, and what can I dream of being and looking for this role model? So that was really how the film started.


And the longer we live, the longer that sort of runway gets. Maybe after retirement and after we've raised our kids, if we're lucky, there's a lot of time there that could be really meaningful if we don't just dismiss it as a decline.


You know, the one thing that I think everyone in the film had in common was they all had a sense of purpose. And I think that one of the things I realized in doing the film is that that sense of purpose can change over time, like you mentioned, raising kids, that's one sense of purpose, having jobs that we go to every day. That's another sense of purpose. And then when you retire, what is your sense of purpose? I think that all the people in the film had that sense of purpose. And that's what keeps them engaged, involved, wanting to get up every day and do something new and innovative and learning. And those are the people I think that do the best and had nothing to do with what they ate what they did. It was really much more about having that sense of purpose.


How did you determine who to speak to and how did you go about, you know, interviewing them and finding these these people.


I didn't know I was going to do a feature film. When I started the project. I just thought it was going to be this project where I interviewed people and maybe did a web series of of these interviews. But so I sent out in the very beginning an email blast to my friends, family and all the alum that I've taught over the years that I've been at the University, and I said "Here's a little clip of my grandmother at the gym, she was still working out at the gym at 100. And if you have somebody in your life and like her them, please nominate them for this project". And I was inundated by very heartwarming nominations. And so that was really how I ended up interviewing the first group of people that I interviewed. And then at a certain point along the way, I interviewed a woman, Marian Wolf, who was eight years old when she came over on the very first Kindertransport from Vienna, Austria and that was before World War Two started. The Quaker Girls in the United Kingdom were trying to rescue as many Jewish children as they could from Germany and Austria. And she was lucky enough to be on one of the first groups that came over from Vienna. And I remember she had this cardboard number that she wore around her neck at the age of eight. And she had that with her when I interviewed her. And I just thought, this whole thing started out as the words of wisdom of all these amazing people, but it's also about their stories of resilience. And at that moment, I knew I needed to do a feature film. And I also knew that I wanted to make sure that I was capturing a diverse group of people. And so I sought out Suzy Edo Bellman, who was interned during World War Two in the United States, because she was of Japanese descent, born here, but of Japanese descent, and people like Blanche Brown, who'd had to deal with the Civil Rights Movement and what that meant and Rosa Bono Biestero, who was the Latino Filipino American and what that meant for her, she was the first Latino in her Girl Scout troop and what that meant. So I really tried to find a diverse group of people after that initial selection.


And there are some men in your film, too.


There are definitely some men. In fact, I know I'm not supposed to have favorites. But my favorite was Lucky Louie, who was a really great Italian guy. And he made fresh mozzarella cheese everyday for his daughter's deli. He was a retired pediatrician, and just had some wonderful words of wisdom. Things like "happiness is a state of mind," "you can be happy with what you have, or miserable with what you don't have. You decide." And I mean, I think about all these wonderful gems, almost every day. It's just it was such a great project to work on. It took me four years of interviewing 40 people. And it was it was the best four years of my life. It was amazing. How can people see this film? Yeah, so it's on PBS. But it's also if you're a member of PBS, you can watch it through your PBS membership, but it's on Amazon iTunes, it's available on DVD on the shop PBS website, canopy, which is tied to libraries just put it on their library. So if you have a library card, you can actually look for it on Canopy. So there's lots of different ways that people can watch it. And also, if they go to my website, which is live-hyphen, well-hyphen, Or if you just Google Lives Well Lived, it's the first thing that will come up. And there's lots of ways to watch it from the website.


Great. And we will include that link in our show notes.


It's not your numerical age, it's your biological age. So think young, act young, feel young, forget the number.


No matter what age you are, education never stops, you still keep learning


The secret to a happy life is to live life to the fullest every day of your life. Be good to everybody, you know, do a good deed when you can be happy.


You're listening to the Crow's Feet Life as We Age podcast. And you've been hearing some of the voices from Lives Well Lived, the award-winning feature film written filmed and produced by our guest, Sky Bergman, who is also the recipient of an Innovation Fellowship from CO generate. So one more question about Lives Well Lived. You shared with me that your grandmother has since passed away, she passed away at the age of 103, I believe, is that correct? Correct? Yes. And did she have an opportunity to see the film?


She did. We were lucky enough to do a sneak preview of the film with her and 27 of the other film stars. And it was the best night of my life. We were in a theater that held over 800 people and she greeted every single person that came into that theater. It was just, I was smiling so hard that my cheeks hurt. And it was just, what a gift that was to have her live long enough to see the film on the big screen. That was just, that was the best night of my life.


That's wonderful. So now let's talk about your being named an Innovation Fellow by CO generate. And I'm really curious as to how that came about and what it means for you and, and what it is about working across generations that excites you.


I am just thrilled that I'm an Innovation Fellow. I applied for the fellowship three times. So never give up. Never surrender, never give up. I think that one of my key traits is that I'm persistent. And I think that that has has really helped me get through some amazing things. But yeah, third


And so one of the things that we're doing with the film is actually connecting generations, connecting students and older adults, and they use the questions that I used during time's a charm. And I really wanted to be part of the the film, interviews to get to know each other. And I love that. And that really came out of one of the students that I took with me on one of the interviews actually with Lucky Louie who was amazing. He, after we did the interview, we went to fellowship so that I can be surrounded by other people that lunch, and the student's name was James. And he said to me, Wow, I never knew that older people could talk so much. And I was just kind of flabbergasted. I said to him, Well, don't you have an older adult in your life? And he said, Yeah, I have are doing amazing work in this CO generational space. It's a grandfather, but I don't really talk to him all that much. It was right around the holidays. And I said, I want you to take these questions and I want you to interview your grandfather. And he came back from that trip and he was really so inspiring. To be part of that and to help amplify each grinning from ear to ear because it was the opening of a door that they didn't know how to open and having these questions was just a good starting point for them to get to develop a relationship. And so I think, you know, it's really easy to have a other's voices, I think is amazing. And, you know, as I stereotype about a group of people, if you don't know somebody from that other group of people. And once you are connected to somebody from that other group, all of a sudden that ism goes away, whether it's racism, ageism, any of those mentioned before, I grew up in an intergenerational home, but I isms, I think having that connection to somebody is so vitally important. And so it's really become my mission, to do what I can to connect the generations. I mean, one of the things that's really become apparent to me is that we need more of this in the world. And that any, anytime that we can didn't realize how special that was until I was an adult and have these intergenerational connections, the world is a better place. And we are living in a time when there are so many divides, that whatever I can do to bring generations together is super important. And, so one of the other things that I'm working on is realized that many of my peers didn't have that. You know, they mochitsuki, the Japanese tradition of bringing in the new year by making mochi and I love it because my way of connecting with my grandmother was really in the kitchen and cooking with her. And so I love when food is that element that brings people just didn't have that example. And that interaction with older together. And so I'm hoping that this will be the first in a series called Pass the Fork, which is like pass that wisdom down. And so, but I'm also in the process of writing a book. And one of the chapters of the book will be people that are adults and I think that it really shaped my life in a very doing intergenerational work and what they're doing really to help other people find ways that they can bring these intergenerational projects ideas into their own communities, unique and different way. educational institutions, you know, corporations.


No grass growing under your feet? No. It's a really wonderful. So I would love to know what is one thing that really stands out to you about the folks you've spent time with, who, as you put it, are examples of lives well lived? Is there a characteristic that they all have in common? I will defer to Abby Justisan, one of the people that I interviewed in the film, who said that she read the book, Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. And one of the things that she really got from that book is that there are many times in life when we can't control the things that are happening around us. But what we can control is our attitude about how we deal with those things. And so I think, for me, that has been one of the biggest lessons is learning to reframe how I'm thinking about something, I mean, look, we all just dealt with a pandemic are still dealing with it. But it's really our attitude about how we deal with it, that determines how we get through that. And I think that that is so important, your attitude really controls everything. So trying to have that positive attitude, you know, it's a real cliche, looking at life, as the glass is half full or half empty. That really does have a big impact on how you move through life.


Then I think the other thing that I learned is that this act of kindness and gratitude, all these people were so kind and so grateful for the things that they had, rather than looking at the things that they didn't have. And I think that that is another really key component. And finally, living life really, in the moment. I mean, I think that as I was younger, I was running around from all over the place and not really enjoying the moment as much. And I think after doing this film and really slowing down, I think that I have learned to enjoy the moment more.


Let's move on to another film you made, a shorter but very impactful one that you made for the League of Women Voters. It's called Forever Voters. And although you made it prior to the COVID lockdown, considering the huge impact that younger voters had on the 2022 midterms, this film is incredibly timely now. And it sure looks like the film and the work of the league is bearing fruit.


Forever Voters is about the League of Women Voters going into high schools to try and talk to the senior students about why it's important to vote and to get them to register or pre-register to vote. And I love this idea of older adults talking to young students, again, that intergenerational connection, and to telling them that their voice really matters. And the flip side of that was I also interviewed the students talking about what was important to them and why were they excited to vote. And the film came about because one of the people that was in my Lives Well Lived film, my feature doc that's on PBS right now, is a very good friend of mine. And she was telling me what she was doing. But she's part of the League of Women Voters and was going into high school in the next day. And I said, Oh, my goodness, I need to document this because I was so inspired. My grandmother didn't have the right to vote when she was born. And so in our household, you know, voting was immensely important. And it was really, my grandmother went to the polls, worked the polls, went to the polls, never saying how she voted. That was not what was important. It was really about forever grateful that she had the right to vote, that it was something that she knew that she didn't have when she was born and how important it was. And when I heard this project about getting young students to get energized about voting, as you know, I was I really, I had to document it. I always say the more personal the more universal. So that personal connection that I had, was really the reason that I wanted to pursue this project.


But considering the impact that younger voters had on the recent midterm elections, it's incredibly timely right now. And it seems like the work of the league is really bearing fruit,


You know, it's really important to continue that work. And they are, they were doing it even during the lockdown, they were going virtually into classes, it wasn't as successful, I think, as in person, but they're back to in-person and going into the classes and talking to the students. And what I love is it's nonpartisan, it's really just about your voice and your vote matter. And I think for many of the students, it's the first time that they're taken seriously as an adult. And it's not a teacher talking to them. It's not their parents, it's somebody from the outside saying we care about your voice, and we want to see your voice heard. And I get chills when I think about it, because the students just, you can see it when they register or pre-registered to vote how excited they are, that this was like the first big adult thing that they are doing and that they're taken seriously, It's just such a gift.


It is so energizing to see the way those young people who you interview on on camera are just so switched on. And they are determined to be engaged. And boy, does that make me feel hopeful. I think that that is a perfect word to describe that film is hopeful, that you see that that that's the next generation and that they are interested and engaged. And I think sometimes other generations think that the young generation coming up doesn't care. And that could not be farther from the truth. I think that when they are engaged and when they have somebody say"we care about what you think," they, just like you said, a switch turns on and they really get very excited about wanting to vote. One of the things that I learned when I was doing my research for the film -- I read this in the New York Times -- it said if somebody votes in three out of their first four elections, they're more likely to become a lifetime voter. And so it's not just about getting them registered and pre-registered to vote but also that carry through of wanting them to actually go out and vote and doing that early on because it sets them up for a lifetime of voting. Hence the title Forever Voters, absolutely. Sky Bergman, thank you so much for joining us on Crow's Feet. It has been a great pleasure.


My pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.


This episode of Crow's Feet: Life as We Age was produced by me, Jan M. Flynn. Our founder and senior Crow's Feet editor is Nancy Peckenham. Our sound designer and engineer is Rich Halten and support was provided by the Crow's Feet


Elizabeth Allen, Nancy Franklin, Warren Turner, Jean Feldeisen, Lee J. Bentch, Catherine Dunn Gilbert and Melinda Blau. Sound files. from Lives Well Lived and Forever Voters are courtesy of Sky Bergman. Thanks for joining us on this episode of Crow's Feet Life as We Age. Don't miss any of our great stories. Subscribe to Crow's Feet wherever you get your podcasts. And be sure to tell your friends and family to give a listen to and leave a rating or review. You can read more Crow's Feet stories So until next time, remember to savor every moment as the writer Jules Renard said, as I grow to understand life less and less. I learned to live it more and more.


How about making friends with your crow's feet.