Presented by the Chicago-based documentary production and distribution company Terra Nova Films, the Silver Images Film Festival continues Friday through Sunday, May 12 through 14, at Ann Sather, 929 W. Belmont; Atlas Senior Center, 1767 E. 79th St.; Bethany Hospital, 3435 W. Van Buren; the Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Dr., and Trinity Hospital, 2320 E. 93rd St., northeast building, room 588. All programs are free, though regular entry admission applies at the Field. All films will be shown on video. For more information call 773-881-8491.


Bye-bye Babushka

Images of a woman who seems both aware and unconcerned that she’s being filmed as she peels potatoes or washes her body–shots carefully framed to show the effects of old age and hard work–seem slightly stagy, but that only enhances the respectful tone of this 80-minute 1997 documentary. Other women in a small Russian village express a range of opinions in flat or impassioned rhetoric when asked how communism affected them, but her wry responses strongly suggest ideas beyond her few words. Filmmaker Rebecca Feig intersperses these interviews, some of which take place as the women perform chores, with the comments of younger women and schoolgirls, surrounding everything with footage from a funeral, as she examines whether the physically demanding work that has dominated many of her subjects’ lives has been dehumanizing–without suggesting that the answer is simple. (LA) (Atlas Senior Center, 12:30)

Short films, program one

Keiko Ibi’s Oscar-winning video documentary The Personals (1998, 37 min.) offers an endearing look at elderly Manhattan singles who find friendship and therapy through a drama workshop. Perhaps only a young outsider like Ibi, a film student from Japan, could have elicited such candid and amusing remarks about sex, desire, and loneliness based on the seniors’ latest play, drawn from personal ads in a Jewish weekly. Some of the scenes are cloying or run too long, but the film is animated by the seniors’ zest for life. Sue Marx and Pamela Conn’s Young at Heart (1987, 28 min.) profiles Louis and Reva, two widowed amateur painters in their 80s who become companions and finally tie the knot in a Jewish wedding. They’re well-adjusted in old age, readily dispensing opinions about art and advice for longevity. At times the film suggests a public service announcement about dealing with the golden years, yet it’s undeniably heartwarming when the couple recall their upbringing, their respective children, and their late spouses. (TS) (Bethany Hospital, 1:00)

You Won’t Need Running Shoes, Darling

Dorothy Todd Henaut’s 1997 video portrait of her octogenarian parents living in bucolic Canada ranges from sweet to tedious, frequently crossing the line between personal filmmaking and sheer self-indulgence. It begins with a haunting meditation on aging and the adjustments one makes as the body wears out, but rather than address these moody, philosophical issues the video turns into a home movie, with long sequences of Henaut’s parents mulching the garden, crushing cans for recycling, and arguing about household chores. Eventually catastrophic diseases intervene, but the health crises are so flatly and amateurishly filmed that all the drama and import are drained away. Even worse is the sappy, educational-film music; serious at some points, bouncy at others, it recalls nothing so much as a Disney nature documentary. 53 min. (Jack Helbig) On the same program, Mark Haller Wade’s Flowers for Charlie (1996, 11 min.), a sentimental, didactic vignette about an old man who befriends fellow passengers on his regular bus route. His calming influence is missed when he doesn’t show up for three days in a row, leaving us with the obvious moral that we should cherish rather than ignore seniors. (TS) (Trinity Hospital, 1:00 and 6:00)

Gay and Gray in New York City

In this 1999 video documentary, five gay and lesbian seniors talk about the bigotry they encountered in New York before Stonewall and the ageism and loneliness that confronts them now, all of them determined not to let their remaining time become “an appendix to the early years.” Video makers Nicholas Chesla, Cindi Creager, and Julie Englander weave in commentary from the young head of a gay-services agency, who adds to the historical perspective while hailing the seniors as the sort of role models they themselves lacked. Their frankness and courage deserve better than this clunky, talk-heavy video. 22 min. (TS) On the same program, Bubbeh Lee and Me (1996, 35 min.), a short by Andy Abrahams Wilson. (Ann Sather, 8:00)


The Return of Paul Jarrett

Clark Jarrett’s proud but prosaic tribute to his grandfather Paul, a veteran of World War I, stitches together archival photos, vintage news clips, and interviews with Paul’s nonagenarian army buddies as it follows the son of a Nebraska cattle rancher into a momentous period in world history. Clark’s narration suffers from an aw-shucks naivete, especially in his historical outlook, but the film perks up when he and the still-vigorous Paul go looking for old trenches and bunkers in the Alsatian woods in 1988; the old man’s expression is stoic but gives way to bliss when villagers near the battlefield turn out to greet them and thank him for his valor. In the epilogue, shot ten years later, Paul is awarded France’s Legion of Honor at age 102, two days before his death. (1999, 48 min.). (TS) A discussion follows the screening. (Field Museum, 11:00)

Swimming Hawaii’s Big Island

An episode from the PBS series Anyplace Wild. Host Annie Getchell tags along with septuagenarian Audrey Sutherland as she explores a remote part of Hawaii’s largest and southernmost island. The indomitable sportswoman hikes, goes snorkeling, and checks out the flora and fauna, awing Getchell with tidbits of local lore and history, but the presentation is so dull that this could only interest the L.L. Bean set. 30 min. (TS) On the same program, Reinvention, a four-minute short by Sadia Shepard. A discussion follows the screening. (Field Museum, noon)

Short films, program two

Two films: The Personals and Restoration (1999), a seven-minute short by Lauren Popell. (Field Museum, 1:00)

Shall We Dance?

Lorraine Charker’s 1995 British documentary follows a group of seniors as they attend rehearsals for Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet in London. 24 min. On the same program, Gay and Gray in New York City. (Field Museum, 2:00)

Servant of the Ancestors

Australian documentarian Malla Nunn follows her mother back to the family’s ancestral homestead in Swaziland and records a tribal ceremony meant to placate the spirits of the mother’s dead brother and parents. This 1998 film gives a fascinating account of racial prejudice and hypocrisy in a country long governed by South Africa; both of Nunn’s parents passed for white, but the mother openly embraced her black relatives, and in late middle age she’s decided to reclaim her African roots despite her husband’s unease. Nunn lets her likable, effusive mother do much of the talking as she visits relatives, grave sites, and a prophet who builds her a straw hut to house the spirits. What emerges is a sincere account of a woman coming to peace with a confused, unpleasant past. 52 min. (TS) (Field Museum, 3:00)

The Gentlemen of Charterhouse

Sharon McCullough’s 1997 British documentary explores the world of Charterhouse, a retirement community in London. 25 min. On the same program, This Side of Summer (1999), an eight-minute student film by Tonje Cicilie Nordgaard. (Field Museum, 4:00)