woman seated at table in art studio
Berkeley artist Edith Hillinger (from the trailer of the film "Edith Hillinger: Collaging Cultures")

Film festival on aging adds to its ‘Legacy’ and goes virtual

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Seniors who work for peace and raise their voices against hate and prejudice of all kinds are being featured in the Legacy Film Festival on Aging, said Sheila Malkind, founder and executive director of the annual event, which will be held virtually this year.

“Younger people don’t always see these films, so they don’t know — unless their grandparents are still living — that many courageous older people continue to fight for what’s right,” Malkind said. “Actually, high school students need to see these films, so they can see the resilience of seniors working to change the world for the better.”

All the films in the festival will stream online from May 24 to 31.

“One very important film we’re screening is ‘The Euphoria of Being,’” Malkind said. The 2019 documentary from Hungary is about Éva Fahidi, a woman who survived Auschwitz and wrote a book, “The Soul of Things,” about her experience. “The filmmaker read the book, which is very popular in Hungary and Germany, and had the idea to weave Éva’s story together with dance. In the  film, the dance leads to closure for Éva, who lost 49 members of her family.”

woman with blue sweater and curly white hair smiling
Sheila Malkind

Malkind, 82, grew up in a Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York. “I went to James Madison High, where Bernie Sanders, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Chuck Schumer and Judge Judy went.”

In 2003, Malkind moved to San Francisco from Chicago, where she was the director for the Silver Images Film Festival. Later that year, she founded the Legacy Film Series, which presents short films on aging at JCCs, public libraries, retirement homes and senior centers in the Bay Area.

A decade ago came the Legacy Film Festival on Aging, and when Malkind put out the call, filmmakers from all over the world responded. Every year since, Malkind and her board — all volunteers — have received about 75 submissions. They choose the films and then group them into programs for the event. In past years, the festival drew between 400 and 500 people, Malkind said, although last year’s festival was canceled due to the pandemic.

“This year, we’ve selected about one-fourth of the films submitted, and we’re putting together 10 programs, which will range between 75 to 90 minutes each,” Malkind said. Some of the films are short and will be grouped together, while some are full length.

Betty Reid Soskin, an East Bay resident who at 99 still works as a park ranger at Rosie the Riveter National Historical Park in Richmond, is the subject of “No Time to Waste,” a documentary about her life, from her New Orleans childhood to her work-and-family years in the East Bay to the achievement of her status as the longest serving park ranger in the United States.

older woman park ranger
A photo of Park Ranger Betty Reid Soskin, at the Rosie the Riveter National Historic Park in Richmond, California. (Photo/Jim Heaphy)

“She’s done a beautiful job working against prejudice, and she also wants everyone to see the beauty of this country,” Malkind said.

Another film with a local connection is “Edith Hillinger: Collaging Culture,” about a Berkeley artist who says her past — contracting polio as a child and fleeing Nazi Germany to live in Turkey with her family — inspires her watercolor paintings and mixed media collages.

Malkind also expressed great enthusiasm for “The Giants Wore White Gloves,” about the white, middle-class women of Little Rock who fought back when Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus closed all of the city’s public high schools to avoid school integration.

“Forever Voters” shadows the League of Women Voters of San Luis Obispo County. “The League believes that when you vote early, you vote forever,” Malkind said, “so they educated high schoolers, prepared them to vote and to develop a sense of responsibility about exercising that right.”

Breaking from the festival’s documentary-heavy lineup is “Rosso: A True Lie About a Fisherman,” a 28-minute short about a Sicilian fisherman who finds the body of a young immigrant tangled in his nets. The film, in Italian with English subtitles, played in Cannes two years ago.

Putting together this year’s festival has been challenging, Malkind said. Howard Bloomberg, her longtime partner and a festival board member, died 18 months ago, and last May, Malkind had a stroke. But her mission to educate herself and others about aging has not wavered.

“I’ve always loved older people and I’ve always worked in the field of aging, one way or another,” said Malkind, who holds master’s degrees in gerontology and public health.

“Though I’ve never taken a course on filmmaking, I’ve had a million courses on aging,” she said. “That’s why I believe in this festival. It’s a good way to learn about older people — and the demand for that is greater than ever.”

The Legacy Film Festival on Aging streams online May 24-31. Tickets are $8 per program, with festival passes available.

Patricia Corrigan

Patricia Corrigan is a longtime newspaper reporter, book author and freelance writer based in San Francisco.