In May 2021, Sheila Malkind, the executive director of the San Francisco-based Legacy Film Festival on Aging, was recovering from a stroke.
“Of course, I’d like to have my body functioning better, but I’m glad I’m alive and still vital mentally and physically,” says the still sanguine Malkind.
The event she founded in 2011 has expanded significantly. Last year’s virtual festival screened 30 films; this time 40, mostly documentaries, will be split into 18 feature programs available online from Jan. 6 through Jan. 22 (extended from Jan. 15).
A team — Malkind, a curator and a handful of reviewers — pores over possible selections. “If we all say ‘maybe,’ we probably won’t pick the film,” says the 84-year-old festival founder, “but many times we all say ‘yes.’”
This year, several flicks that focus on music won a consensus. Among Malkind’s favorites from the event’s 11th annual edition, she names two: “For the Left Hand” and “The Ten of Us.”
She loves the first, she explains, “because a man who’d been disabled at an early age, Norman Malone, still mastered some of the most difficult and beautiful music with just one hand.”
The second, which she calls “a fun film,” is about a group of friends who started as teens doing folk music who now have embarked on what the festival website calls “a tour of love, unity, and addressing aging and death with humor and inspiration.”
That pair, as well as many choices in the fest that for the second consecutive year will be 100% virtual, accentuate the positive.
“We want to avoid doom and gloom,” Malkind says. “I believe that no matter what our age, we’re still interested in being alive, in doing whatever we can do. Life can still be exciting in many ways, and we have to take advantage of that possibility, of making old age palatable.”
Other films she touts are:
• “Eddy’s World,” a documentary short by Lyn Goldfarb that centers on the filmmaker’s father. Reports Malkind: “It’s about a toy inventor who’s now 101 (he was only 98 when the film was made) and shows a man who’s delightful.” Eddy, best known for “chattering teeth” (but who created more than 800 other toys), cheerfully states in the film, “I think that when you do create work, it stimulates your brain and that helps keep your body healthy.”
• “Dear Audrey,” is, Malkind says, “a beautiful film on Alzheimer’s that shows kindness and understanding. It’s very moving — at one point [the husband] goes into the facility where [his wife] is and sleeps in the same bed that she’s in, showing his love and tenderness.”
• “My Mother Dreams: The Satan’s Disciples in New York,” a short film about a widowed Midwestern housewife who becomes obsessed with a Hell’s Angels-ish bikers’ club, won a 1999 Academy Award for best live action short.
• “Golden Age Karate,” a very short short, is about a 15-year-old martial arts champion who teaches senior citizens self-defense at a local nursing home, “giving them the tools to feel in control, connected, and cared for.” It’s part of an 84-minute festival program with a self-explanatory title: Vitality.
With a U.S. Census forecast that by 2035, there will be 78 million people age 65 and older in the country, Malkind aims to flip the attitudes and depiction of older people in Hollywood movies, who “are often still portrayed as irrelevant, sometimes absurd, or they are stereotypical wise elders with limited face time, who give sage advice to the younger, more active characters.” She says, “Most American films do not attempt to portray the richness and variety, nor the triumphs and challenges, of older people.”
Malkind, who grew up in Brooklyn, moved to Chicago, and then relocated to San Francisco in 2003, earned two master’s degrees from Chicago schools. Despite wearing a brace since her stroke, she often walks 40 or 50 minutes in the hills with her son beside her.
It’s seemingly impossible for her to have anything but an upbeat attitude.
A quote on the festival’s website from 19th century writer and philosopher Amos Bronson Alcott, who said, “To keep the heart unwrinkled, to be hopeful, kindly, cheerful, reverent. This is to triumph over old age,” contrasts nicely with a playful quote from Malkind: “I always looked forward to getting older — it’s a part of life, so what the heck.”
Screenings in the Legacy Film Festival on Aging cost $12 per program and $65 for a pass. Visit http://legacyfilmfestivalonaging.org/.