Painting With The Whole Palate

Why we need elder voices on the ‘silver screen’

On Saturday, I attended the Legacy Film Festival on Aging. The three films I saw were grouped into the “Life’s Choices” category. The filmmaker Sky Bergman was present with her film Lives Well Lived; her movie shared the experiences and knowledge of 40 participants with a very wide range of life trajectories. Two of the participants were present and spoke about seeing themselves on the ‘big screen’ and participating in the film process.

Barbara Williams (star), Sky Bergman (filmmaker), representative from the film festival, & Blanche Brown (star)

One of the properties we appreciate about silver is the reflective quality — and any artist or student of art history knows that to paint a silver object is not as simple as squeezing out a dollop of silver paint; painting silver requires using a bit of everything on your palate. The silver reflects the light and the colors of everything else in the composition, a visual effect that cannot be achieved with silver paint alone.

Back to the silver screen: It was so refreshing to sit in a theater and see three films centering stories of older adults. There were many touching moments, but what I am left thinking about a few days later is the wide range of emotions and stories; the films dealt with struggles for self-definition and actualization, love, loss, family, community, growth, and happiness. The full palate of life instead of a tube of silver.

One of the impacts of ageism is the limited range of stories older adults are ‘allowed’ to play or assumptions about what they might have to offer the world on topics of growth, development and quality of life.

One of the impacts of ageism is the limited range of stories older adults are ‘allowed’ to play or assumptions about what they might have to offer the world on topics of growth, development, and quality of life. Our world often excludes older adults, and when they are included, those with power hand the elder a single brush and a tube of silver paint: “tell this story” instead of asking “what do you have to say, and what tools do you need in order to express yourself?” Sky Bergman encouraged each audience member to “leave yourself open” to the unexpected stories; she shared about learning to do so with her participants. As she interviewed them about what it takes to live a good life she also heard about what they survived, stories giving their advice far more weight and impact.

How many articles do younger folks post each day about “how to live a good life” and how often have they asked an elder the same question? My challenge to everyone out there writing on this topic: Ask an elder for their input! Have them edit your article or weigh-in before you push “publish.” Or even better, have them write something and put it out under their name. If you want to tell a story about older people, let them share the whole story — not just the part about being old.