SLO filmmaker gleans wisdom from longevity

Jan 31, 2018

What is a life well lived? 40 people with 3,000 years of collective life experience answer that question in a new documentary film produced by San Luis Obispo resident Sky Bergman. 

The line outside the Palm Theater in San Luis Obispo is long, and people study the movie posters on the wall as they wait their turn to buy tickets. One poster shows a smiling 100 year old woman in a apron under the words “Lives Well Lived.”

This is Sky Bergman’s grandmother, the inspiration behind the film. Bergman just wanted to learn to prepare food like her grandmother.

“So I filmed her cooking and that was really my foray into doing filmmaking," Bergman said. "At that point I had no idea of what I was doing."

Bergman filmed her grandmother again in 2012, now aged 99, working out at the gym.

“I filmed her doing her exercise routine and just as a throwaway comment I said to her, 'hey, Grandma, can you give some words of wisdom? And that was it.”

Bergman teaches photography at Cal Poly, and this is her first film.

“But I just remember as a kid sitting around the table and eating for hours, cause as Italians, that’s what we do," Bergman said. "And that’s when you talk, and I was so fascinated by the stories of my grandparents that I would actually take a tape recorder and put it on the table, so I kind of think the seed was planted back then.”

Lives Well Lived: Celebrating the Secrets, Wit and Wisdom of Age is the resulting documentary film. It premiered a year ago at the Santa Barbara Film Festival, and since then, the film has been featured at a dozen festivals around the country and has won four awards.

In these clips from Lives Well Lived, Bergman’s subject have stories to tell, and something in common: a positive attitude.

“My name is Lou Tedone and I am 92 years of age. I’m up at 4:15 in the morning, I get to the gym by a little before 5:00, work out until 6:00, so I can get home by 6:00 to make mozzarellas for my daughter’s deli,” San Luis Obispo resident Dr. Tedone says in a scene from the film. 

One of Bergman’s favorite quotes in the film comes from Tedone.

“I’ve told the kids always that happiness is a state of mind. You can be happy with what you have, or miserable with what you don’t have. So, you make the decision, and I have always learned to be happy with what you have,” Tedone said.

Many of the people in the film have lived through hard times, especially during World War II.

Emmy Cleeves grew up in Europe during the war.

“My mother fought her way up into the train and I was passing up the few things that we had when there was an air raid siren and they shut the door. And I was left on the platform. The train just pulled out. The police swept everyone off the platform, and there I was. I was fifteen,” Cleeves explains in one scene, sharing what she learned from her experiences.

“I learned when a lot of bad things happen to you you cannot become a victim, because there is always hope there is always an ability to rise out of that,” Cleeves said. 

The Palm Theater in San Luis Obispo will screen Lives Well Lived starting February 16, with a discussion with local filmmaker Bergman scheduled for February 18.

“I started the film because I was approaching 50 and I thought: what is the rest of my life going to be like? I had reached a pinnacle of where I want to be professionally, my kids are grown, what do you do with the rest of your life?" Bergman said. "I think that in interviewing all of these people I was searching for how that was going to look for me and hopefully it will help other people in the same way it helped me.”

Bergman’s grandmother passed away at age 103. She was able to watch the sneak preview of Lives Well Lived with an audience at the San Luis Obispo Film Festival in 2016.