Film festival on aging spotlights people who survived the Holocaust, internment camps and segregation

The Legacy Film Festival on Aging will put triumphs and tribulations of older adults under a cinematic microscope May 24-31.

“These are stories of courage and conviction, from events of long ago to the present,” says Sheila Malkind, the nonprofit San Francisco festival’s 82-year-old founder and executive director.

Malkind knows a lot about courage and conviction. She’s had to overcome the pandemic-caused cancellation of last year’s festival, a stroke she suffered last May that’s affected her mobility and the death of her partner, Howard Bloomberg, a year and a half ago.

While contending that “many courageous older people continue to fight for what’s right,” she specifically cites a festival program titled “Courage Against Hate.”

In “Elder Voices,” Sumiko Kobayashi, who was imprisoned at the Topaz internment camp in Utah at age 18, holds up a 1942 U.S. government notice ordering all people of Japanese ancestry to evacuate their California homes. (Photo courtesy of Sheila Malkind)

One film in that program, “Elder Voices,” is about Japanese American people “who lived through World War II and survived internment yet still retain compassion for other people,” she says. That documentary also focuses on European Jews, Muslims and conscientious objectors who experienced bigotry in their lifetimes, but today “are living the principles of tolerance and mutual respect forged in their youth.”

In truth, many of the 2021 festival’s films deal with “prejudice against something, including how it’s great if you’re forced to confront your own prejudice,” Malkind asserts. She pinpoints “Code of the Freaks,” which reveals how Hollywood treats people with disabilities.

Another profile in courage appears in the program titled “Civil Rights” — a doc called “No Time to Waste: The Urgent Mission of Betty Reid Soskin.” It details the anti-segregation activism of the Bay Area resident who’s currently a 99-year-old advocate at the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond.

In “No Time to Waste,” 99-year-old park ranger Betty Reid Soskin gives talk about the real history of the women known as Rosie the Riveters and WWII-era segregation at the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California. (Photo courtesy of Sheila Malkind)

In the same festival segment is “The Giants Wore White Gloves,” about middle-class women in Little Rock, Arkansas, who fought back when Gov. Orval Faubus closed that city’s public high schools in 1958 to avoid school integration.

According to Malkind — who grew up in Brooklyn, moved to Chicago, where she ran a Silver Images film festival on aging, and then relocated to San Francisco in 2003 — the film shows it’s “tough for people to stand up for yourselves and others, to have the courage to say, ‘No, that is wrong.’”

But the film further shows “it’s possible to do just that and win,” she says.

Two tales of WWII Holocaust survivors are featured in the “Darkness and Light” program. One is “Margaret Singer: Seeking Light,” which tells of the title artist fleeing “tragedy and turbulence in Nazi Germany at the age of 17” but finding an “innate sense of truth and joy” in the United States. The other, “The Euphoria of Being,” is about creating “a powerful and cathartic dance” as an antidote to the toxic memories of being imprisoned in Auschwitz.

Éva Fahidi, right, a 90-year-old Hungarian Holocaust survivor, agreed to take park in a dance performance about her life. In the process, she bonded with dancer Emese Cuhorka, left, and the director of “The Euphoria of Being” documentary, Réka Szabó. The film is featured in the Legacy Film Festival on Aging’s “Darkness and Light” program. (Photo courtesy of Sheila Malkind)

This year’s screenings, marking the festival’s 10th year, will be digitally streamed instead of live; previously, films were shown at New People Cinema in Japantown.

The event normally pulls between 400 and 500 viewers, but it’s anyone’s guess what this year’s digital version will draw.

Each program — with single or multiple movies that range from 5 to 109 minutes in length — costs $8 each, or $50 for an all-access pass.

Sheila Malkind, 82, is the executive director of San Francisco’s Legacy Film Festival on Aging, which she founded a decade ago. (Photo courtesy of Dave Malkind)

Though the eight-day event (accessible HERE: https://legacyfilmfestivalonaging.org) examines many weighty societal subjects, it also contains lightness.

“Not everything is serious!” exclaims Malkind, who’s aided by film curator Arlene Reiff and the other five festival board members. Malkind cites as an example “Legacy Shorts,” which she describes as “an important variety, with people doing funny things.”

Malkind, a Castro District resident and mother of two who apparently accomplishes more than many persons 30 years her junior, and who holds two master’s from Chicago schools (one in clinical psychology from Roosevelt University, the other in public health from the University of Illinois), insists she’s happy at age 82.

“Of course, I’d like to have my body functioning better, but I’m glad I’m alive and still vital mentally and physically,” she says.

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