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Synopsis

Light Years celebrates positive aging, creative aging, conscious aging ~ and the power and potential of midlife and beyond. 

The film introduces Dee, a writer and professor who savors her life-long passion for African dance; Anita, whose work as an actress, dancer, playwright and poet spans eight decades and a host of adventures; and Paul, who started painting at 51 and helps redefine “retirement” to be more about service than shuffleboard.

Dee, Anita and Paul know that whether eighteen or eighty, we all need meaningful relationships, a sense of purpose, and an outlet for personal and creative expression. They reveal that the second half of life can yield profound rewards, modeling the ways Baby Boomers have reframed what our later years can look like.

This is the heartbeat of Light Years: the choice to remain engaged in community, to continue learning, giving back, and growing as we grow older.

As their stories evolve over several years, Dee, Anita and Paul face physical challenges and threats to their independence. Each responds with a resiliency that transcends those challenges and affirms our potential for renewal at any age.

Watch the Trailer

 Meet Anita, Paul and Dee, the three vibrant “stars” of Light Years.

With creativity, resilient attitudes, and a knack for reinvention, these three expand our ideas about midlife and beyond, transforming challenges and finding new ways to enhance the art of living.

Scenes not in final form. Shorter version: 4 min Extended version (below) : 8.5 min

Meet The Cast

 Meet Anita, Paul and Dee, the three vibrant “stars” of Light Years.

With creativity, resilient attitudes, and a knack for reinvention, these three expand our ideas about midlife and beyond, transforming challenges and finding new ways to enhance the art of living.

Scenes not in final form. Shorter version: 4 min  Extended version (below) : 8.5 min

Anita

Anita’s work in theater spans eight decades and a host of adventures. Forty years ago she performed in West Side Story and at age 90, she appears in a play directed by her granddaughter.

A singer. A dancer. An actress. Shot out of a cannon in Ringling Brothers Circus (yes, really). A political advocate. A wife, times four. A mother, times two.

We trace her early years in Vieques, Puerto Rico, her immigration to New York alone at age 11, and her family’s lean times in New York’s barrio.

Anita’s Latina cultural heritage figures prominently in the film: we follow her at the Puerto Rican Day Parade as it salsas its way up Fifth Avenue, at the United Nations where she speaks on behalf of her birthplace, and witness her ambitious collaboration on a Puerto Rican themed musical drama. At 92, she returns to Puerto Rico as an animal rights advocate with her daughter Jane, a poignant trip that is most likely her last.

When a bad fall lands her in the hospital, Anita faces major changes and long-held fears about mobility and dependence, but we also recognize her endearing and enduring ability to live in the moment and adapt to change.

“I have no disability reinventing myself, that’s the idea...to use yourself as best as you can.”

Dee

After a bohemian childhood raised amidst her parents’ famous Hollywood friends, Dee worked as a dancer in the MGM movies of the 40’s, sashaying behind Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. Her passion for education and justice eventually led her into a career in journalism.

We travel with Dee to Yosemite National Park where she worked for Ansel Adams, a visit that ignites a shift deep within her. Having cared for her ailing stepmother for a year, Dee speaks poignantly about the loss of a loved one, the shadow cast on her own mortality, and a desire to rekindle her creative and community work.

When Dee renews her deep connection to dance, we hear from other dancers who are drawn to her infectious joy about how Dee has changed their perspectives on aging.  She returns to a local food bank where she volunteered as a writer; this time she’s out of the office and into the fields, joining other retirees as they glean produce to be distributed to the poor.

Dee attends a conference on aging, where she learns about new research on the aging brain, the tangible health benefits of creative engagement in later years, and the importance of staying connected to community ~ issues that resonate deeply within her.

But a failing knee threatens her independence, and hesitant to venture out like she once did, she faces an operation that may ground her permanently.

Paul

A former corporate manager, Paul restarted his life after retirement. His zeal for family and community service mirrors many in his generation, as well as the Boomer generation on its heels.

One of his uncles created “Flash Gordon” and another drew the comic strip “Blondie,” but Paul did not think about art seriously until he was 51.

After a huge life transformation, echoing a thread of reinvention that runs throughout the film, he rediscovered his innate talent and has emerged as an accomplished portrait artist.  Alongside him, we trace the unfolding of a piece of art, both on the canvas and within the artist. When vision problems arise, he ponders a future without his art.

We learn that Paul is equally passionate about social welfare, working with a substance abuse program and mentoring youth.  With six children, he extends his “father” role as coach of a college golf team. His positive attitude clearly affects these young men, who speak about the role model and friend he has become, at times in stark contrast to other male figures in their lives. Paul’s warm, open demeanor takes the world in and generously gives back, transforming his own life as he contributes to others.

“I was conditioned to being of service, and if someone thinks I have something to give, well then maybe I do.”

Credits

DIRECTOR/ PRODUCER

Claire Marie Panke

EDITOR

Sandrine Isambert

ASSOCIATE PRODUCER

Cat Gulacsy

CAMERA

Claire Panke

Tricia Regan

Bill Meisenzahl

David Leitner

Pall Grimsson

Todd Harris

David Grad

Patrick Reis

SOUND

Frederick Critchlow

Judy Karp

Gautam Choudhury

Claire Panke

GAFFER/GRIP

Mike Lambert

PRODUCTION ASSISTANTS

Brooke Smith

Candace Hines

Colette Filatreau

Lorraine Bracero

ADDITIONAL EDITING

Francesca Mor

Susan Peehl

STILL PHOTOGRAPHY

Claire Panke

Nico Malvaldi

TRANSCRIPTION

John Mele

Kaveri Marathe

STORY CONSULTANT

Fernanda Rossi

WEBSITE

Kristopher Medina