Winter at Westbeth is a film that’s all about “the art.” And celebrating it at every age. This documentary looks at three young at heart, elderly, American artists who live in a vibrant, housing complex called Westbeth Artists Housing in New York. It is ultimately a film that is like a love letter to the power of creativity and pursuing your passion.
The three subjects of this film are all aged 75 years and older. There is Edith Stephen, a former danced turned filmmaker, Ilsa Gilbert, an author of vivid poetry and the late Dudley Williams, a man who performed modern dance with Martha Graham. The three show no signs of retiring or slowing down, they still doggedly pursue their creative endeavours and the things that make them happy. It’s an uplifting message and something that we can all take a little something away from.
The film does have its light moments, like when Stephen applies her green eyeshadow on camera but it also doesn’t shy away from showing some more complex and even dark emotions. Williams describes caring for his late partner and these scenes are both heart-breaking and profound. It’s a testament to filmmaker and cinematographer, Rohan Spong that he has forged a highly personal connection with his subjects and that he brings out the best from his on-screen talent in their talking head interviews. It’s also commendable that he invites the audience into a world where these artists are still vital and relevant and worthy of our respect and admiration.
Winter at Westbeth is a fine, fly-on-the-wall documentary that will inspire us all to leave behind the daily grind and go and live in a creative hotspot like Greenwich Village because it’s a place where artists are supported by the community and a place where they can offer so much more in return. This is one beautifully-realised film that showcases three unique souls and artists and one that manages to capture their essence in a truly joyful and life-affirming way. Utterly charming!
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Winter at Westbeth screens at selected cinemas nationally on February 8th and 12th.