SBIFF Movie Spotlight

2017 SBIFF Movie Spotlight: "Lives Well Lived"

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll feel, you'll see life in a new light after watching "Lives Well Lived" no matter what age you are. This is a timeless and special type of film that rarely comes along. A real jewel.

"Lives Well Lived" world premieres at the 32nd Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and showcases many Central Coast residents who have a story to tell. As you'll read in the synopsis below, this 70-minute film touches on the lives lived by wise, young-at-heart 70-100-something year olds. And boy is it a real treat! The film took four years to make.

If there's one film you really need to watch at this year's SBIFF, this is it! Trust me when I say, you will leave that theater inspired. Still not sure, watch the trailer below.


"Lives Well Lived" celebrates the incredible wit, wisdom and experiences of seniors aged 75 to 100 years old. Through their intimate memories and inspiring personal histories encompassing over 3000 years of experience, forty people share their secrets and insights to living a meaningful life. These men and women open the vault on their journey into old age through family histories, personal triumph and tragedies, loves and losses - seeing the best and worst of humanity along the way. Their thoughtful perspectives reveal a treasure of life lessons and a reminder of the greatest role models in our own families.

Q&A With Filmmaker and Director Sky Bergman

What motivated you to create this film, and inspire you to tell the story you did?

My grandmother was the inspiration for the “Lives Well Lived” film. When she was 99 years old I filmed her at the gym, because I thought, no one will believe that my grandmother is still working out at this age. I asked her for a few words of wisdom and that was the beginning of this adventure. She remains my hero and my role model and she inspired me to seek out other people like her.

Four years and forty interviews later, “Lives Well Lived” captured the images, ideas and ideals of those who are proving that aging is something to cherish. Through the film, I hope to inspire people of every age to think about what they can do in their own lives to achieve the longevity of both health and spirit that these people have achieved. And to realize that growing older is a journey to be celebrated. 

All of the folks in this movie are colorful, funny, each with amazing stories to tell. How did you track every one of them down for your film?

I sent out an email to about 1000 people and asked them if they had someone in their lives that they wanted to nominate for the project. At that point I had no idea that it would become a feature-length film. I was totally inundated by wonderful stories of people with such strength, wisdom, and zest for life that it was difficult to choose who to interview.

At a certain point, I realized that it was important tell as many different stories as I could and so I sought out people that were standard-bearers for living life to the fullest and demonstrated a spectrum of experiences that would be relevant and inspiring to younger generations.  

Which of their stories stood out to you the most?

I can’t pick one story. I think they are all amazing people for different reasons. However, I was surprised by an unexpected storyline that emerged from the generation most impacted by WWII.

As their stories unfolded it was evident that these were ordinary people who rose to the challenge of extraordinary times. They shared their experiences during wartime, that in some cases not even close friends or family had ever heard.

I believe it is the reflective nature behind “Lives Well Lived” that provided a platform for their personal stories to prompt future generations to understand that democracy and human rights are fragile and to hopefully be inspired by the unbreakable human spirit.

What were the challenges you and your crew faced in making this film, and how did you overcome them?

I think the biggest challenge was that I was a first-time filmmaker and I had to learn the ropes. I had a very small crew; two associate producers and an editor. Most of the time I would go out on a shoot myself and be the camera operator, sound crew, lighting crew, and interviewer.

I actually think it helped to have just me and sometimes only one other person because it allowed the people that I interviewed to open up more and feel more relaxed and comfortable. Really, the biggest challenge is wishing I had more time to work on the film. Simultaneous with the film, I juggled teaching for my day job as a professor of Photography and Video at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.

Was there anything you left in the cutting room floor that you wish you could have included in the film?

I left a lot on the cutting room floor, but I a consoled by the idea that it will end up in the bonus section of a DVD someday. When I was editing each piece, I had three main things that I was looking for: a humorous moment, a poignant moment, and words of wisdom. If it did not fit onto those categories, it was left on the cutting room floor. But everyone I interviewed has a voice in the film.

Part of the structure of the film includes vignettes of wisdom from the forty people I interviewed. Even if their story wasn’t included as one of the main features, their cherished words of wisdom made their way into the vignettes threaded throughout the film.

Can you talk about the filming process and what that was like?

The filming process was very interesting. In the beginning I really thought this would just be a web series, but as I interviewed more people, I began to realize the power of the stories that I was capturing. About a year into filming, I decided to fully invest in the idea of a feature-length film. I tried to keep it pretty minimal so I would not intimidate the people that I was interviewing. I had two cameras, LED lights, and some sound gear. I wanted to create a more intimate atmosphere so that it was really just a conversation.

What is a life well lived to you?

My definition of a life well lived is to be kind and loving, to try to learn something new every day, and to be grateful for what each new day will bring.

What did you learn about life and the world in general after making this film?

I started working on this project as I was approaching 50 years old. I think at that point in life, it is a good time for reflection. As stated by Evy Justesen in the film, “The attitude you have about life is really the only thing you have control over, and that is what determines how you are going to live your life.”

What does it mean for you to have this powerful film make its world premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival?

I am grateful to screen the film in a town where many of the people that I interviewed live. It is really a dream come true to be part of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. I moved to California from the east coast in 1989 to study photography at UC Santa Barbara and I lived in Santa Barbara for many years before finally making the move to San Luis Obispo. To come back as a filmmaker to Santa Barbara 28 years after I first started my graduate career at UCSB is quite an honor.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I think the most valuable lesson of the film is that each of the people that were interviewed overcame great life challenges yet have developed a positive way of looking at life. I think my favorite quote from the film by Dr. Lou Tedone, sums it up well. “Happiness is a state of mind. You can be happy with what you have, or miserable with what you don’t have. You decide.”


  1. Tuesday, February 7th at 7:20 p.m. at the Fiesta 5 Theater
  2. Wednesday, February 8th at 8 a.m. at the Metro 4 Theater
  3. Saturday, February 11 at 7 p.m. - Fiesta 5 Theater


Sky Bergman is an accomplished, award-winning photographer. Lives Well Lived is Sky’s directorial debut. Her fine art work is included in permanent collections at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Brooklyn Museum, the Seattle Art Museum, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (National Library of France) in Paris.

Her book, The Naked & The Nude: Images from the Sculpture Series, includes an introduction by Hèléne Pinet, curator of photography at the Rodin Museum in Paris. She has shot book covers for Random House and Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc., and magazine spreads that appeared in Smithsonian, Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel, Reader’s Digest, and Archaeology Odyssey.

Sky Bergman currently is a Professor of Photography and Video at Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo, CA.



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