Meet Calgary filmmaker Dominique Keller

Dominique Keller has been working in documentary film for over 15 years. Her latest film, Love: The Last Chapter, is being presented at the CUFF Documentary Film Festival this week. Filmed right here in Calgary, Keller follows three couples as they navigate the complexities of late-in-life relationships inside a seniors’ facility. As someone who loves telling stories, Keller particularly enjoys the unpredictability and challenge of documentary filmmaking. She studied Anthropology at university and believes that being a documentary filmmaker is a natural application of her studies. As she tells it, anthropologists often travel to distant places and embed themselves in foreign cultures. Keller has opted instead to travel in her backyard and for this film, firmly embedding herself in a senior’s residence to share their stories.

Tell us where you got the idea for your documentary being showcased at CUFF?

“This documentary is my second project that explores stories of older adults. My first documentary followed my 89-year-old grandmother who became the oldest person in Alberta to receive her driver’s license. While working on the project, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents and by extension, I also spent a lot of time with their friends. I was surprised to observe first-hand that a 90-year-old is not that different from a 30-year-old, especially when it comes to love and romance. Although I was in the middle of filming a documentary about driving, I was also beginning to see a whole new story idea unfold.”

Why are these stories important to you?

“I believe that it is important to tell late-in-life stories because older adults are often either absent from popular media or only appear in small stereotypical roles such as the ‘cute, helpless old lady’ or the ‘grumpy old man.’ It is imperative that we tell stories that more accurately reflect older people’s lives, diverse interests and backgrounds. I am also interested in challenging the belief that once an individual is admitted into an assisted care facility, they have essentially left society and their story is over. From what I have observed so far, the lives of those living in assisted living are far from over. People who live in senior residences still have obstacles to overcome, relationships to nurture and most have not given up on striving for happiness.”

What did you learn about Calgary or Calgarians during the filming of this doc?

“I learned that there are a lot of people who know a lot about Calgary and Calgary’s history who are living in seniors’ residences around the city. I live in Ramsay, which is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Calgary. My house, like many of the houses in the neighbourhood, is over 100 years old. It was difficult for me to imagine the people who first occupied my house until I met Nellie at the senior’s residence. Nellie is over 90 years old. When I told Nellie where I lived, she told me that she had just grown up down the street from me and that her grandfather and his friends built many of the houses on my block. Nellie also attended the elementary school down the street from me. Meeting Nellie helped me to understand the deep history of my neighbourhood and to appreciate all the people who lived in Ramsay before me. Nellie helped me to connect with Ramsay’s roots.”

What do you hope people take away from this doc?

“I believe that we are all curious about aging. Although it is scary to imagine an 80-year-old version of myself, it’s also fascinating. Unfortunately, Canadian society tends to avoid thinking about and discussing old age. Much of this avoidance can be traced to our fears surrounding mortality. My goal as a filmmaker is to help people to think more about the lives of older adults and also to spend some time contemplating their own aging process. The ultimate goal of this documentary is to start a conversation about the importance of maintaining the rights and dignity of Canadians as they enter into the last decades of their lives.”

As a Calgary-based director, how do you feel about the city and its people?

“I was born and raised in Calgary. I stay in Calgary because I love how in this city anything can happen. Calgarians have an entrepreneurial ‘can do’ attitude. I have lived in many other parts of the world for extended periods but I keep coming back here because I believe this is a city of possibility and change.”

What did you learn about LOVE during the filming of this doc?

“As you age, you lose your freedom. You leave behind your house, your car, your career, the pieces that make up your identity; these things slowly leave, but the last thing is really the need for human connection. That never really goes away. We need to love and to be loved. This is never more true or more necessary than in the last chapter of life.”

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