While most of us spent the pandemic just wishing that it were over, Sheri Ward of Gibsonia studied for and received her Life, Accident and Health Insurance sales license and became a certified yoga teacher. She also spent a lot of time talking on the phone to her brother—and together, they produced a documentary focused on nonagenarians that has won both raves and awards at national film festivals.
“During the pandemic, I was working on a couple of projects to stay busy, and I started talking to my brother, who lives in Los Angeles, about a documentary film he was working on,” she explained. “I got really interested in it, and offered to do some research to help him find candidates to interview, all of whom were 90 to 99 years old.
“Of course, I said that he had to feature the oldest drag queen in America, and he told me he would if I found him, so I did,” she laughed. “His name was Walter Cole, aka Darcelle XV, and he was still performing at 90 years old!
“Once you get that first contact, it’s like winning something—it makes you want to keep working to find the next person,” she added.
Though Ward spent her childhood wanting to be an actor in front of the camera, the project allowed her the opportunity to take a peek at what goes on behind the scenes. It also kept Ward and her brother connected while they were so far apart, and served as a bond with family members who were no longer here.
“We lost both our parents, and I wish that I had gotten more stories from them before they were gone and listened more to what our grandparents had to say,” Ward said. “It would have been so great to share those stories.
“The generation we feature in this film is slowly going to go away and they’ll be taking their stories with them,” she continued. “That’s why it’s so nice to hear from them now.”
The 90s Club, which features everyone from Dick Van Dyke to still practicing civil rights attorney and Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree Fred Gray to Darcelle XV and more, allows the audience to hear each person’s story in their own words. “We literally hand the mic to each individual and listen in on their lives and experiences, whether those stories are happy, sad or funny,” said Ward. “Each person is a star in their own right; we just provided them with the prompts and they improvised their responses.”
Ward said that she was surprised by some of the information gleaned from the film, including the fact that Dick Van Dyke’s family didn’t have much money when he was young, and that Tony Vaccaro served as a war photographer—a position she didn’t know existed.
“What surprised me most was the fact that many of them had aspirations and goals that they still wanted to accomplish,” she said. “For example, Tony Vaccaro said that when he reaches 100, the first thing he wants to do is run the mile and set a record. I think having those goals is one of the reasons that they’ve had such long lives.”
The 90s Club, which was awarded Best Feature Documentary at the Manhattan Film Festival, will be screened this May 15 at The Lindsay Theater at 1 p.m., and the public is invited to attend the free screening and question-and-answer session afterwards. Those not able to attend can also stream the film on Amazon Prime at https://www.amazon.com/90s-Club-Walter-Cole-Darcelle/dp/B0B7DRT996.
For tickets to the screening, visit https://thelindsaytheater.org.
Ward and her brother just finished up their second film, Black Uniform, which is similar to The 90s Club in that it showcases the stories of 12 Black men and women who served their country from WWII to the present day.
“The film just naturally flowed from The 90s Club and the stories of Fred Gray, who was a civil rights attorney for Rosa Parks,” said Ward. “My brother had also met with a Tuskegee airman, and we thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to hand veterans the mic to share their stories.”
Black Uniform features that airman, as well as the first Black female Army ranger, and a 102-year old woman, Romay Davis, who served in the 6888 Central Postal Directory Battalion in WWII, among others. The film is currently being shopped on the film festival circuit and is not yet available for screening.