A celebratory documentary about the art of living well – at every age.
Manhattan’s Westbeth Artists’ Housing is a unique public housing project whose 385 rent-controlled apartments first became available to artists in 1970. Residents Edith Stephen, Dudley Williams and Ilsa Gilbert are among the long-term inhabitants who continue to draw meaning and vitality from being part of an inspirational community where conviviality and creativity thrive.
“Westbeth. Many want to live here but only a few may do so – the lucky ones” poet Ilsa proclaims from the New York City rooftop of the apartment block she and other residents have worked and lived in for several decades. After surviving life-changing surgery for breast cancer, 72 year old Ilsa’s poetry references her brush with mortality – “knowing death so much, I know life” her poem, Moss, makes poignantly clear. A protégé of American dance pioneer, Martha Graham, Dudley Williams joined the Alvin Ailey dance company in 1963, toured internationally and danced professionally into his mid ‘60s. In his mid ‘70s, Dudley rehearses in preparation for a return to public performance with all the discipline (and much of the graceful bearing) of his younger self.
As former dancer Edith approaches her 95th birthday, she is absorbed in work on an experimental short film with a much younger production assistant who clearly enjoys the collaboration. All three are testament to Dudley’s unaffected but clear-eyed observation that “life is going on here”.
Our screenings are dedicated to the memory of Edith Stephen (1919-1921). In the words of director Rohan Spong: “Edith turned a drab affair where polite folks wore starched white into a technicolour happening…[she was] quite simply, a remarkable, original and irreplaceable human being”.
– Roberta Ciabarra; Curator, Film