Like fish, which are unable to see the water around them, it can be difficult to look back at one’s life with perspective. With this in mind, Sky Bergman’s documentary Lives Well Lived captures the history of modern America collected from the life experiences of more than 40 people ages 70 and upward. The film, which played at last year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival, is set to open for theatrical release in Santa Barbara on April 20.
Born in Philadelphia and raised in south Florida, director/producer Bergman, who currently teaches photography and video at Cal Poly, is a prime example of life’s vicissitudes discussed in the film. Originally majoring in business while attending the University of South Florida in Tampa, she realized she loved photography and teaching while taking a photography class in her last semester. After graduation, Bergman procured a scholarship to study photography for a year and enrolled at the University of California, Santa Barbara, to pursue her dream of becoming a photographer and teacher. As explanation for the abrupt shift in her career aspirations, Bergman said: “Instead of saying, ‘Why?’ I like to say, ‘Why not?’”
Lives Well Lived is Bergman’s first film, which she did not expect to be feature length. When her grandmother Evelyn Ricciuti was 99, she visited Bergman in California, and the budding filmographer filmed the nonagenarian doing routine things such as working out and cooking for posterity. Those clips became the seed of Lives Well Lived. “I didn’t know it was going to be a film yet,” said Bergman in a recent interview with the Independent. She just wanted to record her grandmother’s day-to-day life because, she said, “I thought, no one will believe me that my grandmother is still working out.”
Bergman then became interested in finding other people like her grandmother — people who were “living life to the limits.” “I reached out to friends and alumni and asked them to nominate people like my grandmother to be interviewed,” she said. The hardest part, Bergman explained, was narrowing down the nominations to the ones that would fit into the film. Now, with the collection of so many stories, Bergman’s small project became something much larger.
Lives Well Lived chronicles stories covering, but not limited to, immigration, surviving the Holocaust and Japanese internment camps, and escaping from Soviet control. Each shot is beautifully constructed and enhances the storytelling. The philosophies that the film’s elderly participants have developed and tested through their life experiences cohere across vignettes. These pieces of wisdom range from defining success to reflections on the pursuit of happiness, with every interviewee possessing a lucid quality that Bergman described as a sense of “curiosity developed over time.” She credits her grandmother — and this film — for teaching her that “a life well lived is a life where you think you’ve made a difference and helped other people … [so] live in the moment and be kind.”
Bergman hopes her film will prompt people to build stronger connections with those who came before them. “I think my life is much richer because I spent so much time with my grandparents,” she said. “I think that’s inspired me to become who I am today.” Lives Well Lived shows the strength in connecting with one’s elders and looking back on the hardships, triumphs, and luck in life. “Everyone has a great story to tell if you’re willing to listen,” said Bergman.
Lives Well Lived opens Friday, April 20, at The Hitchcock Cinema & Public House (371 S. Hitchcock Wy.). See metrotheatres.com.