Stories about older adults are hard to come by in Hollywood. A movie that honestly portrays some of the harsh realities of aging is even rarer.
The new documentary, "Still Dreaming," is an example of that rare kind of film. Beyond that, it's also an incredibly uplifting story about the power of creativity.
The film follows a group of seniors putting on a production of Shakespeare’s "A Midsummer Night’s Dream." They’re all residents of The Lillian Booth Actor’s Home, an assisted-living facility in Englewood, New Jersey.
While some of the residents are new to acting, others are seasoned professionals, albeit long-retired. Aideen O’Kelly, who’s featured in the film, was in “Othello” with James Earl Jones. Another resident, Charlotte Fairchild (in the video above playing "Puck") was Angela Lansbury’s understudy in “Mame.”
"Still Dreaming" begins as two founders of the New York-based Fiasco Theater company, Ben Steinfeld and Noah Brody, are brought on to co-direct the play with an ambitious six-week production schedule. Several challenges crop up along the way, but the production ends up having a revitalizing effect on the entire retirement home.
The documentary is directed by filmmakers (and husband and wife) Hank Rogerson and Jillan Spitzmiller. They made a similar documentary in 2005 called “Shakespeare Behind Bars,” about a staging of “The Tempest” in a maximum-security prison.
The Frame host John Horn spoke with Rogerson and Spitzmiller about "Still Dreaming," which airs April 14 on PBS SoCal.
Jillan Spitzmiller on the idea of creativity as a "life force":
I think what the film reveals is the importance and the power of creativity and of creative engagement. And [someone like] Aideen [O'Kelly], she's still so in touch with that, she still knows that creative force is life force for her. And she's put it aside and misses it profoundly. I think the film is about that — it's about how creativity can help us get back in touch with our joy, with our meaning for life, with our purpose.
Hank Rogerson on why "A Midsummer Night's Dream," with its themes of confusion and mistaken identity, was a good fit for the setting and for these actors:
It actually became a better fit than we ever imagined. We thought with the themes of love that are very prevalent in 'Midsummer Night's Dream' that we'd go in and get all this sage advice about love, and that didn't really pan out at all. What really came forth was the confusion and the dreaming-versus-reality, and how in a room of people at any age — and, in particular in this instance, people in their 80s — that everyone is dealing with their own perception and everyone is dealing with their own reality ... And there's not only the themes of the play around confusion, there was the confusion of the residents as to, What are we doing? What are we aiming for? There was the confusion with Ben and Noah of what sort of production this would be. And I think for ourselves as storytellers, [confusion about], What exactly is this story we're trying to tell? I think where it all gelled for us was when we sort of embraced the confusion and it kind of made the story work in a way that we just weren't expecting.
Spitzmiller on the lessons that the retirement home staff brought to the film about taking every day as it comes:
It was an incredible thing to witness because we came in kind of as Ben and Noah did. We expected that the play begins, the rehearsal begins, it progresses and voila! — there's a fantastic production at the end. We had no idea how difficult a mountain every day would be to climb. But the staff doesn't look at it that way. They take it as it comes and that was such a beautiful lesson for all of us, to just meet each day with what it brings to you ... And, in the end, the product of the play was really irrelevant. It was the process, it was the day-to-day. Is this bringing us joy today or is this bringing us learning or is this bringing us community? Or is it getting us out of bed even? That's all that matters.