“Your decisions should be based on your curiosity, not your fear.”
Are you curious why older people are the happiest demographic in the country? I know I am, which is why Sky Bergman, photographer, professor, and documentary filmmaker, is my guest in this not-to-be-missed episode. Sky’s first documentary, “Lives Well Lived,” is based on interviews with forty older women and men with a combined 3,000 years of life experience. The film celebrates the incredible wit, wisdom, and lives of these older adults whose stories are about perseverance, the human spirit, and staying positive.
Currently, Sky has two films in production: “Mochitsuki” about an intergenerational family that prepares Mochi to celebrate the Japanese New Year, and “Prime Time Band,” about a group of older men and women who pick up instruments that they haven’t played for years, even decades, and who make music together.
What are you waiting for? Listen to this conversation on “Older Women And Friends.”
And when you're done, please take a minute to participate in the questionnaire below. Email your responses to email@example.com.
* Please rate this episode on a scale from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest.
* What question(s) would you like to ask Sky?
* Will you watch the film, "Lives Well Lived?" by using one of the links below?
* What are subjects that you'd like to be discussed in future episodes?
I don't have the pleasure of meeting most of the guests on older women and friends in person because they don't live very close by, and my next guest is no exception, even though I feel as if we've met before. Sky Bergman is an accomplished, award-winning photographer, a professor and a documentary filmmaker, and back in 2019, I wrote a blog post about the importance of movement as we age the old adage, move it or lose it and as I was researching for the post, I landed on an article about Sky's first documentary, lives Well-Lived. This is a film that celebrates the wit and wisdom and experiences of adults aged 75 to 100, and it was like bingo it was if Sky had reserved the best seat in the house just for me. Movement, whether yoga or dance or working out at a gym, was a part of many of these older adults' routines. I wrote that post five years ago and had forgotten all about it until Sky reminded me in our pre-interview emails. I was impressed and anxious to hear what she's been up to since. I am delighted to welcome Sky Bergman to older women and friends.Speaker 2:
No, thank you, Jane. Thanks so much for having me, and what a great introduction that was.Speaker 1:
Can you tell us a bit about your childhood, where you grew up, and a little bit about your family?Speaker 2:
Yeah, sure. Well, I was born in Philadelphia and lived there for many years and then moved to Florida and was lucky enough actually to live with my grandparents and my even my great-grandmother was alive. So I lived in a four-generation household which was pretty amazing, and had a wonderful childhood. I like to say that I grew up in my grandmother's kitchen and right by her side, and she just was an amazing woman who was really such a role model for me throughout my life, and I just was lucky enough that she lived long enough for me to be old enough to really appreciate her in a much more full way than I did when I was younger. I always appreciated her when I was a kid, but as an adult and after having raised kids and then being an empty nester and then having to be able to spend time with her, it just was a very different relationship as an old, as an adult, than it was when we were kids.Speaker 1:
And what is it or what was it about her? Because, if I'm correct, she did pass away not that long ago.Speaker 2:
She passed away. She was 103 and a half, so she lived long enough to see the Lives Will Live film that she mentioned play on the big screen, which was great. She got her 15 minutes of fame and she was in the audience when we did our little preview of the film, and that was great, yeah, but she has since passed away.Speaker 1:
So what was it about her that was so important to you, so influential?Speaker 2:
Well, I think she was a really good female role model. I think that I started working on the Lives Will Live film as I was approaching 50 and looking for positive role models of aging and just not finding them in the media. Everything that was about 10 years ago and everything at that point was all about what we could do to avoid aging. Any movies that you saw were all the really negative aspects of aging, and here in my own family my grandmother, who was approaching 100, was still working out at the gym, something that she didn't start doing until she was 80. And she always used that phrase move it or lose it. So that's why I absolutely remembered the article that you wrote, because there was such a connection to my grandmother in that article, and so I really was lucky enough to have her as a positive role model of what my life could be as I aged. And that was really the inspiration for starting the Lives Will Live film was looking at her life, all that she'd done, all that she kept continued to do, the inspiration that she was for so many people, and knowing that there were other people out there like her, and wanting to find those people so that I could model my life and my older years around people that were doing well, who are aging well, who are embracing aging and looking forward to it rather than dreading it, and I spent the next four years interviewing 40 people with a collective life experience of 3000 years, and what a journey that she set me on.Speaker 1:
It sounds absolutely fabulous. I was going to ask how you rounded up these 40 plus people. That must have been a Herculean task.Speaker 2:
It wasn't really that hard. They're out there. There's so many people that are role models. What I did in the beginning was that I sent an email blast out to my friends, family and all the alum that I have taught over the years that I've been at the university. I had a little video clip of my grandmother working out at the gym. I said, hey, if you have somebody like her in your life, then please nominate them for this project. I had no idea I was going to do a film at that point. I was inundated with heartwarming nominations. I think if you open up that box, it's amazing how many people bubble up. The hardest part was really trying to find people that were diverse and had different stories. When I did realize that I wanted to make a film about people that were 75 plus, I really started looking at how can I tell a number of different stories. How can I tell? Because it was not just about their words of wisdom, but it was also about their stories of resilience and the things that they went through To really shine a light on all of those different experiences. For example, I really wanted to make sure I had somebody that was Japanese American as part of the film and somebody that was African American and somebody that was Latino. I really wanted to have a diverse group of voices that I could share. At that point I started really looking specifically for people that could fill some of those needs as well, I want to backtrack just a minute.Speaker 1:
This has been a perfect segue, but I am curious to know when you started focusing interesting word on seeing what was around you. I'm talking specifically about becoming a photographer and then eventually moving into film.Speaker 2:
Yeah, well, that goes back a number of years. My dad always had a camera in his hand and always took photos of us. He actually had a dark room when I was growing up. Not that I really use it much, but I did remember that when I went to school, I actually was a business major undergrad and I took a photo class for fun my last semester and I fell in love with the dark room, just fell in love with the beauty of creating images. Not only did I know that I loved photography, but I also knew that I wanted to be a teacher. I went to my professor at the time, who I'm still friends with to this day, and I said hey, lou, how do I get a job like yours? He really took me under his wing and helped me put a portfolio together. I got into grad school and then started teaching. That was really the start of it was, I think, that one of the mottoes that I live by and I'm looking up on my desk because I have a little post-it note up there which is that your decisions should be based on your curiosity over fear. I really decided that, my God, if I was in my 20s and I was going to settle and do finance, which I really didn't enjoy, but I was good at versus follow the thing that I knew I was passionate about and loved. I didn't want to settle at age 20. I just went for it full bore and really followed my passion and have ever since All the projects that I work on. I never know where they're going to lead, but I just follow my heart and follow those threads and somehow it leads me in the right direction.Speaker 1:
Well, speaking of following threads, you made the jump, although I see the connection between, or from still photography to filmmaking, and being in a family where we have done the same, I understand it, but I'm curious to know what propelled you. Was it the story of your grandmother that you felt you needed to have on film, where we could not only see but hear? Or what propelled you?Speaker 2:
Well, there was definitely a very particular moment in time, because I had been a still photographer for years and taught photography for over 30 years at universities and worked with magazines and all that kind of stuff in New York when my grandmother came out to visit me for the very first time in California and she lived in Florida, she was 96 and she was an amazing cook who never wrote a recipe down, and I realized at that moment that I had this opportunity because she was gonna be out for a month that I could record her cooking and it was just the two of us and my mom was there in the background, but really just my grandmother and I would just record her and I called it. I did a little series called Cuccinanata, which means Grandma's Kitchen in Italian, and that was really my first foray into filmmaking, because up until that point I'd just been a still photographer. But exactly what you said about wanting to have the sound of her voice, the gesture of her hands and just having that wanting to record that, I think, was what propelled me into filmmaking and that was it. We have a motto at the university that I teach at Cal Poly, and it's learn by doing, and I certainly lived that motto throughout this whole transition from being a still photographer to a filmmaker, and I still live it to this day. Of everything that I do, I'm learning by doing and I have a real strong belief in that. I always say, instead of saying why, I say why not? And really just follow those like, okay, I need to do this and I'll figure out how to do it. And I'm also not afraid to ask other people questions of how do you make something happen? If I don't know how to do something, I'll ask around until I get the right answer that I need, and I think that a lot of people at times are afraid to admit that they don't know how to do something. I am not afraid to admit I don't know what I'm doing and if somebody can help, please speak up.Speaker 1:
Same. So you were talking, we were talking about positive role models, of aging, and, because this is older women and friends although I certainly do not neglect the men, but they are not my immediate focus and your grandmother, I just have to tell people you must see the film. She's the most lovable, happy, positive person. She just, she sparkles, she lights up the screen. It's just such a fun way to spend an evening, or at least part of your evening, watching that film. So and there's no way that Sky can describe her, you have to see her in motion, which is how, what was one of the reasons for doing a film, what were, or who were, one or two of your other favorites and we won't tell anybody and they won't be listening or I shouldn't say favorites two other really interesting stars of your film, and I call them stars because they are stars.Speaker 2:
Yeah, well, I will say keeping it to the woman side of the film and those people that were in the film, really one stand out. Who is a dear friend of mine now was Evie Justicin, who in the film, talked about A couple of things. One is she talked about turning 50 and really changing careers because she didn't want to be a boring, dull person in a rut. That certainly has resonated with me of not being afraid to change careers and do something new at any age. The other thing that she said was that she talked about Victor Frankel's Man's Search for Meaning being a very important book that she read. What she got out of it was that many times there are things that are happening around us that we can't change, but the one thing that we can change is our attitude about how we deal with things. That certainly has helped me get through some tough times is hear her in my head saying that I think she was really instrumental for me in the film. I think the other person who really affected me was CL Bergman, who's not related to me. We have the same last name but we're not related. She was one of the few people that I knew before I did the film because she was my mentor when I was in college and she was an amazing painter and environmental activist. I think that her passion for that and for doing what she believed in was just so impressive. The other thing that she said in the film that really has stuck with me is that she said you can't change another person, not one iota. I think about that in relationships and it really also resonated with me and has changed the way that I approach relationships. I'm in a great relationship now but I know and have been for the last 11 years, but I know that CL's words of wisdom certainly have helped me in that relationship Just sometimes remind myself you cannot change another person not one iota.Speaker 1:
I've never really thought that. Right Before we talked about what's going on with you now, which is also fascinating, there was one question I think that you asked every person in the film. Am I remembering that correctly?Speaker 2:
I had a list of 20 questions that I thought everyone in the film, just to keep it. I really wanted there to be some consistency and then, of course, we went off on tangents. But it was those 20 questions I came up with by having lunch with some of my colleagues who teach in the psychology of aging class and the social sciences, and they helped me formulate some of those questions that I asked everyone, just as a starting point. That didn't mean that, like I said, we couldn't go off on other tangents. I think that's really important to allow for flexibility, but it was really great to have that starting point.Speaker 1:
And I think there was one of the questions and I might be misremembering is basically what is the one trait or the one thing that has impacted your successful aging the most?Speaker 2:
I think I remember someone saying a sense of humor, for example yes, I think that really is pretty remarkable because it's different for all different people, and it wasn't necessarily about physical strength. A lot of times it was about having a sense of humor. I think the really the three things that people had in common for aging well, because we all wanted to know what's the secret, right. First, was they all had a good support system, and that didn't necessarily have to be family. They could be friends, but they were not alone. They knew that they had other people they could count on. And I think secondly is that they all had a sense of purpose in life, and I think that's so important, no matter what age you are. And also, knowing that sense of purpose can certainly change over time, and I think that's where a lot of people get hung up when they retire, because their sense of purpose, they lose that, and so where does that? How do they get a new sense of purpose in their life? Because they're so tied in with their job or their profession, and if you talk to someone, you ask them one of the first questions is what do you do? And so what do you do when you retire? How do you describe yourself? And I think that having that sense of purpose is really vitally important. And then, lastly, is really, it was all about attitude and the people in the film, even though they went through some horrific times, some really tumultuous times in their lives, they were all able to see life as a glass is half full rather than half empty, and I think that positive attitude, no matter what you're going through, is really important, because attitude is everything and that just it makes such a difference. And so those were really the three things I think that the people in the film had in common.Speaker 1:
And where can people see lives well lived today?Speaker 2:
Well, the film is all over the place. It's on if you have a PBS membership. It's on PBS Passport for free. It's on Amazon, itunes, canopy. If you have a library card, you can buy the DVD from PBS the PBS shop. So it's all over. It's pretty. If you just type in lives well lived, you will find it.Speaker 1:
You'll find it. Well, let's talk about your two newest films, or I think that both of them are in process. They're all in production by now. Mispronounce the name, but it's Mochi Suki. Is that how you pronounce it? You did not mispronounce it, you pronounce it correctly Excellent. Yes, because I love Mochi. So that part of the word I knew how to, and I think that's really more about intergenerational connections. Can you explain why?Speaker 2:
Yeah Well, so I, as I mentioned, grew up in my grandmother's kitchen and our best stories and our best connections really came when we were cooking together. So I love this idea of bringing generations together around food and in fact, I think I'm going to have a whole series based on that, called Pass the Fork. And this might be the very first of many, but Mochi Suki is about the Japanese tradition of making Mochi to bring in the new year, and it's all different age groups that get together and it's this passing down of this legacy and it's but it's more than just about the Mochi Suki. It's also about the Japanese-American experience as told through Mochi Suki. So what happened during World War II? How were people able to still continue this practice, even in this ceremony, even when they were incarcerated during World War II and the internment camps, and so and shortly after, and why is it something that's still important to carry on today? And I think that's really in bringing those generations together to continue that tradition, I think is really important.Speaker 1:
And is that? Is there a completed film available or are we looking at a trailer initially?Speaker 2:
Yeah, I do. It's not completed yet. I'm hoping to have it on PBS in May of 2024 for Asian Pacific Islander a month and. But right now there is a trailer on our website, which is just mochi-filmcom, and you can see a little bit about what the film is going to be.Speaker 1:
So and then I know that there is another film in the works and I don't know if you're going to title it the Primetime Band or going to do something different from that, but it's a fabulous story. I wish I would be able to do something with that. It's a real hoot and I wonder if you can tell folks what the Primetime Band is and why you're interested and certainly why I'm interested.Speaker 2:
Sure, Well, the Primetime Band is a group down in Santa Barbara and it is made up of people that are 40 plus they just lowered the age it used to be 50 plus, now it's 40 plus who play music together and they practice every Tuesday. There's about 75 to 80 people that are in the band and then they perform all over Santa Barbara County and the reason that I love it is most of the people that are in the band are people that played in like junior high or high school college and then they put their instruments away. Many of them put their instruments away to do their end quote's day job and then come back to music later in life. And, as one person said that I interviewed once a band nerd, always a band nerd and so they all get together. It's so lovely because there's a sense of camaraderie and it's much more than just about the music. It's also about this coming together of this wonderful love of music, and I think that music is one of those things. I was a band nerd, full disclosure. I played flute, clarinet and bassoon in high school and junior high and I think one of the things about playing music in a group like that is that you are one person, but combined you create this beautiful piece that you would not be able to play by yourself, and so there is something about this wonderful collaborative spirit that becomes part of the band. But it's more than that, because it's also about aging and the brain and how music plays a part in that, and I think that's also a very important component of the film, and how that helps people stay active and engaged, but also that community that really helps support one another. And I think, when I said the three things that people hadn't come into the lives of all the film was learning something new every day and having a sense of purpose, which that's what the band does. Having a good support system that's also what the band does. So I think there's two out of the three things there, and most of those people have a really positive attitude.Speaker 1:
And how did you find this group? Because you're not from Santa Barbara.Speaker 2:
Well, I originally did go to school in Santa Barbara so I had a lot of people down there. But I found it because, oddly enough, the trailer for Mochi Suki was playing as part of a first Thursday event in Santa Barbara and the conductor of the band, of the primetime band, paul Moray, used to make Mochi when he was a kid. That was part of his family's legacy and he still makes it. He has got a Mochi maker now, but he still makes it every year. And he reached out to me and said hey, I saw your trailer and I'd love to connect. And so I, being myself, I looked him up and he teaches bassoon at Westmont College and I thought, oh, my God, there's a serendipity here that I can't pass up. And then he started talking to me about the primetime band and I thought, oh, I have to film this. This is amazing. And that's again, that's where I follow those threads. So I hear the story. It sounds really interesting and I follow it. I think that's it's important to follow those ideas and see where they lead. Sometimes they don't lead to anything, but sometimes they lead to amazing things.Speaker 1:
And to have the wherewithal to take those risks and to jump in, and I'm assuming, more often than not it tends to be a wonderful experience with lots of lessons learned and, yeah, it sounds fabulous. So the primetime band, because it's not complete, is there something that people can look at this point or are we still waiting?Speaker 2:
We're still waiting. I'm working on a trailer right now because I'm still filming that film right now. I'm still in production and but if they, if people want to go to my skybergman productionscom page, that's where I will be posting when I have any updates on that film. I have all the films that I've worked on are on there, except for primetime band, because we're just really getting started with that.Speaker 1:
So so my last question is and maybe it's not a fair one, I'm gonna ask it anyway Do you see that you have a focus more on women and aging or do you see your focus as one of intergenerational relationships? And of course they can work synergistically together. But just because we're in the midst of a very active anti-ages and movements and I'm just wondering, because I'm trying to find my own place in that movement, and so I'm curious as to where you put yourself.Speaker 2:
Well, I think that I would say I got a co-generate fellowship last year because I was working with, alongside 15 other people who are working on projects that are bringing generations together. So that is certainly my passion and my Love, and even with the prime time band one of the elements of the prime time band is that they work with the sound of Barbara symphony and they, as part of this group they formed, called the music van, where they go into Grade schools and bring their instruments and bring them to the students, because there's very little music education anymore in the elementary schools. So again, it's that cycle of Bringing younger and older generations together to create something really beautiful. And I feel like with any ism and age ism is one of those isms it's very easy to have that stereotype or that ism if you don't know somebody from the other group, and once you do know somebody from that other group, all of a sudden those isms disappear. And in fact, one of my biggest pushes right now with the lives will live film for the past five years I've been working with educators around the country and PBS learning media has something on their website as well to connect generations, using the film as a catalyst, and so that is really one of my driving forces and working on a book right now which I think I briefly mentioned to you in our email correspondence, and one of the chapters is devoted to people that are doing intergenerational work, whether it's an intergenerational symphony or cogenerational housing all really exciting ways of how we can bring generations together so that we stop siloing people by age.Speaker 1:
Here. This has been fabulous. I'm so delighted that we've had a chance to talk and that you've been able to share some of your wonderful projects with the listenership and and I give you a big thank you. Oh it's my pleasure.Speaker 2:
Thank you for asking me.