The Grand Generation
Running Time 27 minutes. Copyright Date 1993
Filmmakers Marjorie Hunt, Paul Wagner, and Steve Zeitlin
Distributor Not in distribution
Topics Oral history, cycle of life, creative aging, diversity, work, unions, race relations, gender roles, changing technology, hard times, resilience, creativity, mastery
Literary Links Tie a book to the film screening, for example:
Cohen, Gene. The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain. Basic Books, 2006.
Mann, Emily. Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years. Dell, 1994.
Terkel, Studs. The Studs Terkel Reader: My American Century. New Press, 2007.
Related Folkstreams Films
Dreams of the Noble Old
Free Show Tonight
When My Work Is Over
PROCEDURE FOR DISCUSSION LEADERS
· One hour for screening and discussion
· One hour for related activities (optional)
Overview This portrait of six older Americans, each with their roots in a unique cultural heritage and a powerful perspective on the nature of aging, features the following:
Alex Kellam, Chesapeake Bay waterman, Crisfield, Maryland
Ethel Mohamed, storekeeper and crewel embroiderer, Belzoni, Mississippi
Moishe Sacks, Jewish baker, Bronx, New York
Rosina Tucker, civil rights activist, Washington, DC
Cleofes Vigil, Hispanic farmer, musician, singer, and storyteller, San Cristobal, New Mexico
Nimrod Workman, coal miner, union activist, and ballad singer, Mascot, Tennessee
See More about the People for fuller biographies.
· Preview the film and review this guide and Resources.
· Choose how you want to open discussion.
· Welcome the audience by introducing yourself and Folkstreams.net.
· Depending upon the size of the group, ask people to introduce themselves either to the people sitting near them or to the whole group.
· Ask viewers to conduct a self-inventory by taking an internal note of what they think the film will be about.
· Return to self-inventories. Did the film differ from what viewers expected? What surprised them?
· Use one of these quotations to spark conversation about different stages of aging as well as the film:
“Let me be in my age that I am now.”
“Them that know nothing, fear nothing.”
“I accomplished what I wanted, therefore I was happy.”
“Old age has its work: be young.”
“I’m the age of whoever I talk to.”
“I don’t feel old, I’m having too much fun.”
“I was here for a purpose.”
“We have to put forth great effort for whatever we do. Nothing is easy.”
“The older you get, the more you’ll refer to this reminiscing.”
“What was it like in your day? Each day is my day to perform the best I can.”
Questions below offer various ways of discussing the film:
-Which person most interested you and why?
-What does the title, The Grand Generation, mean to you?
-How do the people featured in this film defy stereotypes about aging?
-How does mass media portray older people and how can we contribute positively to images of aging?
-What skills mean most to you and why?
-What do you want to pass along to younger generations?
-What are you most looking forward to?
-How have changes in technology affected your life?
-How have social changes such as the Civil Rights Movement, feminism, technology, or new educational and occupational opportunities affected your life?
Interacting and Reflecting
Choose a topic below and ask viewers to pair off and interview each other about the topic. Suggest they take notes as they listen and then ask a couple of follow-up questions. Remind partners to switch. Ask pairs to share their reflections or talk about the interview process. How was it to ask questions, answer questions, listen carefully? These are rich themes for further conversation and reflection.
-Naming traditions—What do you know about your name, who named you, has your name ever changed, do you have a nickname, what have you named your children or pets?
-Childhood play—With whom did you play, where, what were some favorite games and activities, what were boundaries and rules, how do you play today?
-Indigenous teachers—From whom have you learned outside an academic setting, what are some skills you have learned and taught in everyday life, what values accompany them?
-Rites of passage—What are some personal customs surrounding birth, coming of age, courtship and marriage, or death and dying?
-Personal experience narratives—Share a story about aging creatively or a time when you overcame a challenge.
Each person featured in The Grand Generation describes memories, work, skills, and values in accents from different regions. Ask viewers to share their gifts of knowledge and experience. What would they want to tell a documentary filmmaker about their lives? Ethel Mohamed told her story in needlework. Filmmakers use storyboards. Ask people to think what their storyboards would tell. What music would be on the sound track? What would their accents and voices tell about them?
The Veterans History Project, public radio programs, StoryCorps, scrapbooks, and personal Web logs--Americans today are vitally involved in telling their stories. With enough interest and commitment, viewers may want to start a documentation group that would choose a topic around which to host events or organize projects. The Smithsonian Folklife and Oral History Interviewing Guide (see Resources) provides everything needed to launch such work. Start small with an informal story swap or an artifact exchange when people can share stories of favorite things—like Antiques Roadshow on PBS but with stories instead of appraisals!
Invite students from a local high school to attend the screening and then participate in the discussion and activities. Pair off students and adults to share their reflections on one of the topics above such as naming traditions. Ask pairs to share their experiences and opinions with the group. Students in service learning and community service projects are one place to start. Call your local high school librarian or the public library’s young adult librarian to find teens to join you.
More About the People
Visit the Ethel Mohamed Stitchery Museum in Belzoni, Mississippi. See examples of her embroidered life stories at www.mamasdreamworld.com.
Rosina Tucker won the 1983 Hubert H. Humphrey Civil Rights Award. She narrated the 1982 documentary Miles of Smiles, Years of Struggle: The Untold Story of the Black Pullman Porter, directed by Jack Santino and Paul Wagner. The daughter of former slaves, Tucker was a music teacher, an organist at the Liberty Baptist Church, and a file clerk for the federal government. She worked for the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters until she founded the International Ladies' Auxiliary in 1937. Working with the Brotherhood, the Ladies' Auxiliary fought against racism, focusing on the need for civil rights legislation, the protection of minority voting rights, and the preservation of dignity on the job.
Cleofes Vigil was named a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellow in 1984. Hear him on Music of New Mexico: Hispanic Traditions, Smithsonian Folkways Records www.folkways.si.edu.
Nimrod Workman is also featured in the Folkstreams film Appalachian Journey and was named a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellow in 1986. He had a cameo role in the feature film Coal Miner’s Daughter, 1980, directed by Michael Apted, and the documentaries Chase the Devil: Religious Music of the Appalachians, 1990, directed by Jeremy Marre, and Nimrod Workman: To Fit My Own Category, 1975, directed by Anthony Slone and Scott Faulkner for Appalshop Films www.appalshop.org. He can be heard on various recordings, including Passing Thru the Garden, June Appal Recordings, 1975; Mother Jones’ Will, Rounder Records, 1978; and the soundtrack Harlan County USA: Songs of the Coal Miner's Struggle, Rounder Records, 2006.
Cohen, Gene. The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain, Basic Books, 2006.
Hufford, Mary, Marjorie Hunt, and Steven Zeitlin. 1987. The Grand Generation: Memory, Mastery, Legacy. Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service/ University of Washington Press. Available from the CARTS Culture Catalog www.carts.org 800/333-5982.
Isay, David. Listening Is an Act of Love: A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project. Penguin Press, 2007.
National Endowment for the Arts. National Heritage Fellowships 1982-2007 is a beautiful book on the 327 traditional artists who have won the nation’s highest honor in the folk arts and features an accompanying DVD-Rom with over 40 hours of audio, video, text, and slideshows. Free from NEA www.nea.gov/honors/heritage.
Zeitlin, Steven, Amy Kotkin, and Holly Cutting Baker. A Celebration of American Family Folklore. Pantheon Books, 1982. Available from the CARTS Culture Catalog www.carts.org 800/333-5982.
Louisiana Voices www.louisianavoices.org Unit II on how to conduct fieldwork by interviewing and documenting cultural practices and other units on varied topics from childhood play to occupational folklife and the seasonal round are helpful for all ages, not just K-12.
Smithsonian Folklife and Oral History Interviewing Guide
StoryCorps www.storycorps.net and StoryCorps Griot Initiative
Veterans History Project of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress www.loc.gov/vets
American Association of Retired Persons www.aarp.org
American Library Association 21st Century Library Program www.ala.org
Center for Intergenerational Learning http://templecil.org
Designs for Change www.imls.gov/pdf/DesignsforChange.pdf
Generations United www.gu.org
Elders Share the Arts www.elderssharethearts.org
National Center for Creative Aging www.creativeaging.org