Lindsey Sitz firmly believes that stories get more interesting with age – literally. The 27-year-old Silver Spring native and current resident was inspired by the denizens of Leisure World to create her first short documentary.
The result, Fondly, Maggie, which profiles Leisure World resident Maggie Smith, was recently chosen as one of the 135 entries in the 11th-annual DC Shorts Film Festival. Taking place at various local venues next month, the festival is one of the largest of its kind on the East Coast, showcasing entries from 25 countries. Sitz studied psychology at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, before being bitten by the film bug.
A current master’s degree candidate at American University’s film school, Sitz spoke with WJW about the magic of making movies.
What’s the backstory behind Fondly, Maggie? How did it all come together?
I was in a class called “Backpack Documentary.” Basically the idea of this class is that you go out as a one-man band, one-woman band, and you create a short film. We could do it on any topic we wanted, and there’s a retirement community near where I live called Leisure World. I had this idea that I wanted to talk to older people about dating. I went up there one day and just started talking to old people.I got some great stories and then I decided I wanted to dive into a little deeper.So I went to the Leisure World bar – there’s a bar inside – and my mom would ask me where I was going. I’d be like, “I’m going to happy hour at Leisure World.” She’d be like, “Oh my God, you’ve aged like 40 years.” I started hanging out at the bar, talking to people about dating. There was one night I went to this jazz show that they had there, and I met Maggie and her boyfriend Al. They were amazing.When I met them, I knew they were going to be the people in my film. When I met them, I had already interviewed another woman, but Maggie radiated this aura of a full life and full living. I knew that I wanted to get to know her, and that’s how it unfolded. I just kind of hung out at Leisure World, and found my character. She’s amazing.
Does the film just consist of Maggie giving advice or is there something more to it?
It’s a character piece on her, and it’s basically talking to her a little bit about her philosophy on living. She’s 90 now. When I did the film she was 89. I also went on a date with her and her boyfriend, and filmed their interactions, and I talked to him a little about it, too, because I wanted to dive into their brains. I feel like there’s this huge stigma around aging in the U.S., and I wanted to allow people who watch the film to get to know this bright spirit who’s up there in age, but she’s living her life. Age is just a number, and she’s living how she’s always lived. I kind of wanted to address the stigma without actually addressing it. Is this the first time you’ve participated in the DC Shorts Film Festival? Yeah. I have gone to it for a number of years, but this is my first time submitting a film and first time screening a film, too, so I’m really excited. Have you participated in any other film festivals? No, not film festivals. I was in an art show for a short film that I did a few years ago, but this is definitely the first one where my film was selected.
What makes the documentary short, and short films in general, appealing?
I love short docs, and short films in general, because you can tell a really concise, tight story quickly. It’s more challenging I think to tell an entire story in a short film. I feel like with our culture now – where everyone’s just like go, go, go and if things aren’t fast people lose interest – I think short films appeal to that type of culture right now. People can ingest these short films and learn a lot in 20 minutes. In DC Shorts, they’ll show the films in showcases, so you can go for 90 minutes and see 10 films, depending on the different length. Tell us about what sparked your interest in filmmaking.
Did it happen at an early age?
Actually when I was 12, my parents got me a really sh — ty video camera. Not in a bad way. It was a cheap video camera that I could mess up and throw around. That’s when my passion for creating video first started. I used to make music videos with my sister and her friends. My dad was coaching a basketball team and I interviewed them. I was really into running around with a video camera when I was younger. In high school I did television studios. In college I studied psychology, so I completely fell off of that. My passion reignited after I worked for a few years with kids, and I loved it, but I don’t think it was my calling. So I ended up getting internships in film and then I went back to school. It’s going really great. I’m loving what I’m doing.
What is your all-time favorite documentary?
I’m a big fan of [AFI Docs]. There was this one I saw a few years ago called Seeking Asian Female, and it’s this amazing dive into this relationship addressing the Asian fetish. I believe the woman who made the film is a Chinese American, and basically it dives into the relationship of this older white dude, and he got a mail-order bride. The filmmaker ended up translating for them and being a part of their relationship. It’s a really interesting film. I think that’s probably one of my top documentaries.
Would you ever want to direct a film that has Jewish themes?
I think yes. I do have this thing for older people, in terms of the stories I like to tell. I think it would be really interesting to do something along the lines of Fondly, Maggie with Holocaust survivors, or people who have a lot of stories like that. There’s a short doc that won at the Oscars this year [The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life], about a woman [the late Alice Herz Sommer] who was 109 and a Holocaust survivor. I really enjoyed that. Actually, I saw a lot of the short docs that were nominated this year, and they were all awesome.
Aside from DC Shorts and film school, what’s next for you?
Actually right now I’m a week away from leaving for Prague. I’m studying there for the semester at FAMU, which is the film school in Prague. For the next four months, I’ll be working on one short film with a few of my good friends from school. We’ll be shooting on 35 millimeter film. This is more fiction focused, but I’m really excited we’re going to have it done by December. So that’s the next big chapter of my journey.
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I have circulated this article to our network for their use/appreciation. Our organization runs an initiative that advocates on behalf of older adults called “national Neighbors Silver,” which is focused primarily on economic security issues they face. Great article by an up-and-coming filmmaker. Thanks for the optimism and hope this article radiates!