Out of sheer fascination, I let the cameras roll as Kitty digresses into another anecdote, this time about how she had recently woken up at 10 pm by a down-on-his-luck neighbor who was hungry and asking for something to eat. “You come in and help yourself to the fridge, Kevin. I’m going back to bed,” she told him. “Lock the door on your way out.”
I will never be able to use this in the final film, but I don’t care. I don’t stop her. I want to know what happens next.
Kitty’s barely-locked house is right in the burning-red heart of Las Vegas. This spry grandmother is full of enchanting stories going back 80 years--from her feisty childhood to her career studying the effects of radiation on farm animals and the porcelain grand piano she custom made for Liberace. I listen spellbound as she relates different corners of her life; her memory is an irresistible time capsule. And it turns out she’s not alone.
I have had the pleasure of working with elderly folks on a couple video projects I’ve helped direct this year, Hilltop Senior Life Options (https://youtu.be/YzhpkBUqFtU) most recently, but it was the Nuclear Care Partners (NCP) project we did last year April that really ignited a storytelling spark in me and left me wanting for more.
Over three days in Las Vegas, we shot four patient-vignette videos of Kitty, Jerry, James, and Burt, all of whom are in their 70s and 80s and who are now dealing with the ravaging bodily consequences often afflicting Department of Energy workers and contractors in the days before we understood the harmful effects of radiation. Nuclear Care Partners is nurse-owned and operated and provides in-home care for these American heroes.
Burt is another such hero. Burt joined the military at sixteen and parachuted into Korea. He worked on rockets that went to the moon, personally shook President Kennedy’s hand, started a scuba-diving school, and has lived in 21 countries. While priming nuclear bombs underground for Nevada detonations, he felt the tingle of the bomb’s emanating radiation in his chest. Most importantly, he married his childhood sweetheart and, now in his 80s, he adores her more than ever.
I left our Nuclear Care Partners project with the profound sense that the elderly among us have mountains of tremendous stories to tell, and they’ve lived enough years to artfully curate the joys and pains of life’s events in ways that leave the young among us with much to learn.
To learn more about Nuclear Care Partners, check out James' and Jerry's stories and visit their website at www.nuclearcarepartners.com.
Directors: Will Campbell and Seth Schaeffer
Director of Photography: Sean Conte
Assistant Director: Jess Rigg
Producer/Interviewer: Brian Watson