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PBS celebrates Grandparent's Day by airing Cal Poly professor's documentary "Lives Well Lived"

photo courtesy of Lives well Lived
Filmmaker Sky Bergman and her grandmother

A local film director gathered dozens of older adults to find their wisdom and advice on living a happy life, and her documentary “Lives Well Lived” is now airing on PBS this Sunday in honor of Grandparent's day. Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo professor Sky Bergman was fascinated by her 99-year-old grandmother who was still working out regularly and was full of energy. Bergman was approaching a midlife milestone and was seeking insight on how to live a meaningful life. 

“I was looking at approaching 50, and I wanted some positive role models out there," Bergman said. "There just really weren’t that. Everything was anti-aging, rather than, 'We are all going to age, so we want something positive to look forward to.'"

To help find the answer, she decided to interview her grandmother and dozens of other people aged 75–100 to share their stories and secrets. 

“What’s interesting is that none of them said, ‘exercise and eat well,'" Bergman said. "I would go back to what my grandmother said, which [was that] her secret to a happy life was to just be kind.”

Bergman said people used to listen to their elders for guidance, and that doesn’t happen much these days, with some people feeling like it’s a chore rather than a gift that they can call their grandparents. 

“We learn that history can repeat itself, we have to learn from our past so that hopefully we don’t make the same mistakes in the future," Bergman said. "Their sense of resilience, especially now with all of us going through a pandemic, I think of their stories and their resilience and it helps me get through some of the tougher times.”

Bergman’s film is now critically-aclaimed and has aired in local film festivals. Her grandmother, Evelyn, got to watch the film on the big screen just six weeks before she died, at age 103. But Bergman said her grandmother did things on her own terms, and she just wanted to see the film before she decided to say goodbye.

“She literally said ‘I’m done.’ She stopped eating and taking her pills, and she passed away in two days," Bergman said. "As stubborn as she was in life, that’s how stubborn she was in her passing.”

For Grandparent's Day this Sunday, Bergman reminds people to call their relatives. Or even better, write them a letter.

"Lives Well Lived" will air in Salinas and Monterey on PBS affiliate KQET and KQET2 on Saturday, September 11 at 6 p.m. and Sunday, September 12 at 2 p.m. (National Grandparents Day).

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.
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