Film director and producer Robin Leacock is showing audiences how much we can learn from our elders. Her documentary, “Stella & Co: A Romantic Musical Comedy Documentary About Aging,” shines the spotlight on the lifetime of wisdom and humor that seniors have to share with all of us.
Leacock’s latest film was inspired by her mother, Estelle “Stella” Craig, who died last year at 103.
“She was brilliant. She was vivacious, charming, charismatic, smart, opinionated, brilliant, and I can go on,” Leacock said.
After her father died in 2000, Leacock decided that she wouldn’t abandon her mother, who was in her 80s, as she grew older. Leacock and her mother loved to travel together, so Stella became the focus of her life.
A Lifetime of Wisdom
Leacock had produced and directed an earlier film about her mother entitled “Stella is 95,” and when Stella turned 102, Leacock discovered that her mother had developed close relationships with many fascinating seniors at her residence.
She interviewed them for “Stella & Co.”
Part of Leacock’s motivation for making the film was that older people are often misunderstood in our society, and Leacock believes they deserve far more of our respect and attention. Other cultures often hold their elders in much higher regard, Leacock said.
“A lot of people tend to have a prejudgment about older people–that they’re not quite people anymore–and in fact, they’re more than [that], because as you age, you’re still you,” Leacock said.
She believes society has many misconceptions about older adults—that they’re less intelligent, weaker, and generally less capable. In fact, many seniors are exceptionally smart and wise, and often have a more profound way of looking at life. After a lifetime of accomplishments, they have a great deal to share with others.
“Stella & Co” begins with the quote from Amadou Hampate Ba: “In Earth-keeping cultures, each elder that dies is a library that burns.” The longer someone lives, the richer their “library” becomes.
“There’s a lot that can be gained by spending time with older people,” Leacock said.
Young at Heart
Leacock also garnered valuable life lessons and pieces of wisdom from the seniors she spoke with. Her own mother Stella always told her to keep busy, and she would say, ‘You can get older, but don’t get old.” She also encouraged her to be present in the moment and to seize the day instead of focusing on the past or the future.
Indeed, all of the seniors that Leacock interviewed had interests and hobbies they were pursuing. One senior loved writing poetry, while another enjoyed singing and was in a choir, and another had a passion for music and piano.
“Everybody was just really still involved and engaged in life, and I think that’s part of the key of having a vivid life when you’re older,” Leacock said.
Every person she spoke with in the film said they felt like they were 20 or 30 years old—whether they were 80, 90, or 100 years old. One woman in the film told her that if she didn’t have a walker, she would think she was 16.
Gerson, “The Romantic,” is a poet who relishes the ability to express his thoughts and feelings through his work. To him, age is superficial, and he’s told that he doesn’t look or behave as though he’s 96 years old.
He doesn’t worry about the uncertainty of the future.
“By and large, life has been really good to me, and I like to be good to life,” Gerson said in the film.
“Keep your head up. Look high. That’s my motto.”
Maury, “The Renaissance Man,” is 102. He’s played professional baseball, traveled around the world, and used to fly his own airplane. He stresses the importance of cherishing what you have, instead of focusing on what you don’t have. However, he’s coy about sharing more advice.
“People ask me, ‘What’s your secret?’ and, of course, I tell them I’m going to bottle it and sell it so I can’t tell you now,” Maury joked.
Pursuing Their Passions
Maria, “The Fashionista,” was born and raised in New York City, and was a fashion designer before she retired. She feels that now is the time for her to do anything she wants without having to be responsible for anyone else. She’s currently considering writing her own book about aging.
“It’s all about doing the things that I never had time to do without guilt, and having fun and experiencing new experiences and learning from other people,” Maria said.
She added that she isn’t afraid of death, and believes that’s something everyone has to face. She knows life is finite but believes every minute is an “opportunity and a gift.”
“Aging is just a phase of life. No one knows how long they’re going to live,” she said in the documentary. “So why not make the best of every day, no matter what happens to you?”