As Seniors Isolate, Documentary Series Shares Their Wit and Wisdom

May 4, 2020
Silver Screen Studios Co-Creator Tiffany Woolf and actress Marion Ross, one of the celebrities featured in Silver Screen Studios’ new platform of shows celebrating inspiring seniors both in and out of the public eye. Photo courtesy of Reboot and Silver Screen Studios

Seniors have been hard-hit by the coronavirus, and those who remain healthy are nonetheless suffering socially and emotionally while sheltering in place. Now, two new media projects  —  “Coming of Age” and “Dispatches From Quarantine” —aim to leverage the life experiences and attitudes of our elders as a wise, witty balm for these trying times.

The projects are produced by Silver Screen Studios for Reboot, an arts and culture nonprofit that reimagines and reinforces Jewish thought and traditions. The first episode of “Coming of Age” premiered on April 27. New episodes will be posted on YouTube and the silverscreenstudios.org website for the next six Mondays, all featuring L.A.-residing seniors.

“Dispatches From Quarantine” will rely on crowd-submitted content, but a trailer is online.

“There are so many lessons to learn,” Silver Screen Studios creator Tiffany Woolf told the Journal. “Older generations are the most isolated and vulnerable, but they have the reserves and the resiliency to use this time wisely and not have the fear that other generations do because they have already lived through so much.”

Woolf co-created Silver Screen Studios with Steve Goldbloom. She serves as executive producer with Noam Dromi, an Emmy-winning writer and producer who is also managing director of Reboot Studio (the organization’s content arm).

The premiere episode of “Coming of Age” features Los Angeles-based Risa Igelfeld, now 102, who escaped Nazi-occupied Austria as a young girl, outlived her loved ones including her children, and survived a serious accident. (Igelfeld told her Kristallnacht story in this 2014 Jewish Journal piece.)

Woolf recalled asking Igelfeld how she stays so positive through all the trauma she’s experienced. “You must always follow the blessings,” Igelfeld told Woolf.

Dromi also identified Igelfeld as a “model of resiliency.”

“She’s still standing,” he said. “She lives in gratitude, focuses on the joys and blessings, not the negativity or downside of the horrific things she endured.”

Other “Coming of Age” stars include philanthropists and activists Bruce and Toni Corwin; agent and producer Lawrence Kubik; talent agent Budd Burton Moss; artist and author Beverlye Hyman Fead; student of Jewish literature and mysticism Florene Rozen; and performer Barbara Baral. All seven interviews feature Los Angeles-based seniors. An additional two episodes featuring Detroit-area seniors  are in production.

While “Coming of Age” was produced in documentary-style episodes,  “Dispatches From Quarantine” will feature interviews with well-known seniors, iconic figures and celebrities including Marion Ross, Norman Lear and Larry King. They discuss how they’re handling quarantine and aging in place.

“Dispatches From Quarantine” currently is accepting video submissions. Guidelines at Silverscreenstudios.org provide some technical specs along with prospective questions, such as how this time reminds them of other hardships and challenges they’ve experienced, and what words of wisdom they’d like to share. Silver Screen will review the submissions and edit together some favorite moments for future episodes.

“I realized I didn’t have role models for how to navigate aging. So I set out to interview older people and capture their wisdom, wit and candor of how to get through it and what it means to be a well-lived 85-year-old.” — Tiffany Woolf

Woolf said she hopes that “Dispatches From Quarantine” will inspire people to call their loved ones. Her grandparents died when she was young, and her parents died in their early 60s, leaving her feeling “like I was missing something,” she said.

“I realized I didn’t have role models for how to navigate aging,” she said. “So I set out on the journey to interview older people and capture their wisdom, wit and candor of how to get through it and what it means to be a well-lived 85-year-old.”

For Dromi, the son of a journalist and a social worker, meeting Woolf was “an ordained calling.” With career experience working in media, marketing and technology, Dromi saw the opportunity to expand on Woolf’s core vision for Silver Screen Studios and use it as a platform to support different kinds of video storytelling.

“Coming of Age” has been in the making for over a year. The producers hadn’t planned to release it so soon, but “as soon as ‘the new abnormal’ started, we realized these stories needed to get out there more than ever,” Woolf said.

“The reality of a global lockdown is an opportunity to pivot and iterate,” Dromi said.

Silver Screen Studios also has been working with the L.A. Jewish Federation’s young adults program, NuRoots, to involve younger people as interviewers and prompt them to engage with older role models, Woolf said.

Silver Screen Studios Co-Creator Tiffany Woolf shares a moment with 102-year-old Risa Igelfeld while filming the new digital series, “Coming of Age,” premiering weekly on YouTube and at silverscreenstudios.org. Photo courtesy of Reboot and Silver Screen Studios

“We don’t have a great relationship with aging in this country and culture,” Dromi said. “The number of older adults in nursing homes that people don’t visit is heartbreaking and inexcusable. We have a lot to learn from that older generation and cohort [… and] we don’t do a good enough job of giving them the platform to share their stories and give back. … I hope that Silver Screen Studios is part of an effort to change the energy and intention in this marketplace.”

He added that these seniors’ stories have an appeal beyond the Jewish community. “[The content is] more thrilling and action-packed than anything Hollywood has put out. If you’re attracted to YouTubers and TikTokers, this will blow everything out of the water.”

Most of the people they interviewed were 80 and older, and Dromi said that for them, “There’s joy in waking up every day. They enjoy the small moments. That’s an important lesson. These are people who are still in the game, working, being creative and having fun.”

Woolf and Dromi also noticed a common thread among the stories.

“There seems to be a theme of gratitude and blessing,” Woolf said. “These people have faced real trauma and they choose life, positivity, to ‘follow the blessings,’ ” she said, quoting Igelfeld. “I feel we have to learn from those who have really lived and choose to follow the gratitude and the blessings and maybe we can aspire to do that in this time under quarantine. We wake up every day and say, ‘Are we going under today?’ I feel so lucky to be the recipient [of their wisdom], to carry their essence and spirit of resiliency with me.”

Corrections: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to Steve Goldblum as Steve Rosenbloom; the performer is Barbara Baral; and Dromi is the son of a social worker, not a gerontologist as previously stated. 

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