Picking up a camera. Seeing what’s around you. Giving people a voice. These are reasons Robin Baker Leacock loves documentary film. Her latest project, Stella & Co: A Romantic Musical Comedy Documentary About Aging, first aired on PBS in May and was inspired by Leacock’s 103-year-old mother Estelle “Stella” Craig. The film follows the lives of Stella and eight residents (ages 75 to 105) at their independent senior residence. Thought-provoking, the documentary delivers a positive look at what it means to age in modern times through humor, music and storytelling.
“My Mother influenced me in every way,” Leacock says. “Her zest for life, finding humor and creativity in every moment and her brilliance in conversation was all inspirational as well as fun. She was very career oriented and continued to write books until the age of 103 years young. In fact, when she passed on, she was just beginning her next book. But mostly she inspired me to give her a voice. As well as other seniors. They all have a lot to say.”
Leacock grew up in Toronto, surrounded by artists, filmmakers and musicians. She married Robert Leacock, a second-generation documentary filmmaker and cinematographer. His father, Richard, helped create the cinéma vérité style and was a driving force behind the film program at MIT. Through paying attention to both her husband’s and father-in-law’s methods, Leacock found her own way as a filmmaker. Other films she’s directed and produced include It Girls, A Passion for Giving, Stella is 95 and I’ll Take Manhattan.
Truly Seeing Our Elders
Stella and Co. kicks off with a quote, “In Earth-keeping cultures, each elder that dies is a library that burns.” Leacock notes American culture has a habit of putting people aside when they reach a certain age. She knows that’s a shame, because growing older means gaining unique experiences of the world.
“My hope is that this film will encourage people to remember the great treasure we have in our older generation,” Leacock says. “They have accomplished extraordinary things and have much to teach us, far past their retirement years. We are living in extraordinary times, where our aged population is vulnerable as never before. The goal is to offer viewers a much-needed forward-thinking shift in perspective. Aging is a subject that affects all of us.”
Leacock’s mother is the perfect role model for that shift in thinking. Prior to starring in Stella and Co., Stella founded the “Cinema 16 Film Festival” (believed to be a precursor to the Toronto International Film Festival), sold typewriters, invented and marketed her own nail polish remover, and ran a World Adventure Series with speakers from all over the world. After her 90th birthday she also became an active community leader, pushing through a plan to revive a public park in her neighborhood. This earned Stella the nickname “Park Lady.” She also wrote books, plays, and directed her own stage production.
When asked what makes a good documentary, Leacock points out not all films have to be serious. They can be fun too. For girls and women looking to pursue a career in film, she highly recommends learning to edit. Leacock is currently following in her mother’s footsteps by completing a book. She’s also waiting for the next film idea to strike her.
Robin Baker Leacock
Top photo provided by Leacock.
Creator Spotlight features interviews with artistic women/girls and showcases their work. If you know an artist you’d like to see spotlighted, email Erin at erin(at)girlsthatcreate(dot)com.