Deirdre Fishel has been directing and writing films for over 20 years. Throughout that time, she has devoted her life to making films that portray various issues that affect society, such as bullying, sperm donation, and ageism. Her latest film, Care, shows the day-to-day life of a few elderly people and their personal care workers, as they try to stay afloat among the treacherous waters that constitute the American health care system. The film is a touching, sobering, heartbreaking look at a system that so many of us ignore, yet that almost all of us will one day need to use: elder care. The film was recently screened at the Reelworld Film Festival in Toronto. The following is an interview with Deidre Fishel regarding the making of Care:
FERNTV: How did this film come about? Why did you choose to investigate the subject of Elder Care?
Deidre: I have long had an interest in the lives of older people, partly because their lives are too often absent from the mainstream media. Over a decade ago I directed a documentary, STILL DOING IT: The Intimate Lives of Women Over 65, a film about older women and sex which flies in the face of ageist ideas about who older women really are. My mother, at 73, was a character in that film. But ten years later she was growing frail. Adamant about staying in her own home, my sister and I started exploring home care for her. And what we found shocked us. A system close to impossible to navigate and not paid for by Medicare. When I found out workers were making poverty wages, I thought someone has to be making a film about this, especially given how fast our population is aging. When I found out no one was, I jumped in.
FERNTV: What are some challenges you faced while filming? Was anyone apprehensive about sharing their story?
Deidre: One of the biggest issues was getting people who were being cared for to share their stories. America is a place where we value independence and many older people as they age feel enormous shame about needing help. Peter was on the fence for a long time about whether he’d participate. I hung out and began filming his wife, knowing that he might not participate, and then one day he just said, okay. But it took really trusting me.
FERNTV: What made you decide to turn to Kickstarter for funding for the film?
Deidre: We had some wonderful funding from the Ford Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation, but we hit a funding gap and doing a Kickstarter campaign seemed like the only sure way to keep going and we knew it would also help us build community. Thankfully, shortly after we finished our Kickstarter campaign, we got funding through the Independent Television Service (ITVS) which also assured us a national U.S. broadcast. But for a while there we didn’t know that would come through and it was scary. We ultimately didn’t have to use the Kickstarter money to finish production. But the Kickstarter money has been incredibly useful in helping with outreach and festival costs which ITVS, won’t pay for.
FERNTV: How did you find your subjects?
Deidre: Mostly through organizations I was working with. I would go to meetings, talk to everyone and say do you know someone where you think we could film both the caregiver and the care recipient as well as the families of both. A social worker had seen Vilma speak and said she was amazing and devoted to her client. I went to a worker cooperative and they found Delores. I also knew I wanted to have a rural story so I found an organizer working in rural Pennsylvania. The first family didn’t work out, nor the second, but the third family she found was Larry and his care worker Laurie, and they became a centerpiece of the film.
FERNTV: Did anyone’s story affect you the most?
Deidre: The stories affected me in different ways. I spent the most time with Vilma and became the closest to her and Dee. I really grew to love them and to feel like they were really family. I really related and looked up to Peter as this amazing journalist who had worked around the globe. He was so talented and so handsome and I just felt if Peter could become so frail and need care, it could happen to anyone. His story really brought the universal nature of this need home. Finally, I just was wowed by Laurie, taking care of Larry, rotating his oxygen tanks, giving vital, life saving care in this tiny house, in an isolated rural town. I was just in awe of her competency and her love of Larry. And the fact that Delores went into a shelter while i was filming haunted and enraged me. I just thought what kind of a society could let someone who takes care of our elderly fall through the cracks like that. So I guess the long answer, is I was deeply affected by all the stories.
FERNTV: What are you hoping to do with this film?
Deidre: Get it out, start conversations, get people knowing about the issues as well as giving a tool to all the groups and folks who are working for change on both sides of the equation, better long term care for elders and better treatment and pya for workers.
FERNTV: How does it feel to be part of the Reelworld Fillm Festival?
Deidre: It feels like an amazing opportunity to show the film in Canada and to see if these issues resonate with Canadian audiences. We have a lot of organizational ties in the U.S. and it feels like a way to begin to build connection across the border.. I am also just very excited to see some of the other films which feel powerful and inspiring.