The more we spoke about it, the more it occurred to me that Ashley's take on toys is the same as his take on people. In fact, I realized, my visit was a perfect example. There I was... the daughter of a friend he had known (and subsequently fallen out of touch with) seven decades earlier, staying as an overnight guest in his home. And there he was... giving me fresh towels, preparing tea and sandwiches for me, and opening up his life to me... all so that I could make the film I wanted to make. In fact, he only agreed to let me do the project in first place on the basis that it would help advance my work as an artist.
Earlier this month I traveled to Little Cranberry Island off the coast of Acadia National Park in Maine to do some shooting for a short film I'm working on. I spent three days visiting with Ashley Bryan, celebrated author, poet, artist and storyteller who - some 70 years ago! - was a college buddy of my dad's at Cooper Union. I met Ashley in 2009 after my mom serendipitously bumped into him while on vacation in Bar Harbor. Ashley is one of those people who just sparkles. He has a heart of gold, a perpetual twinkle in his eye, and a deep, smooth voice that inflects the slightest hint of a British accent (even though he is from the Bronx!). After three or four prior visits to Little Cranberry, I knew that the focus of my film would be on Ashley's youthful spirit. How does someone in their 90s stay so young at heart? What fountain of youth has he discovered? What is his secret? And how can I capture it on camera?
“People say that the most tragic thing in life is the death of a child,” Ashley told me, “so don’t let the child within you die.” At 91 years-young, he really practices what he preaches. His home is stuffed to the gills with a toy collection more than 80 years in the making. It includes gadgets, figurines, puppets, carvings, trinkets, collectibles, antiques, ornaments, artwork, and everything in between, all meticulously arranged and displayed on shelves throughout his home.
I thought that documenting Ashley's collection could be a way to portray his youthful spirit. My plan was to punctuate moments in his life through his favorite toys and try to understand the significance behind the most special ones - his favorites. This idea was detoured when Ashley informed me - many times, actually - that he doesn't have favorites. "But surely there must be one or two that are extra special," I encouraged. "No," he maintained, "no toy is more special than the other. I appreciate the joy in each of them." He was steadfast.
So, in staying true to the nature of documentary, my original focus for this project has shifted significantly! But I have a feeling the new angle will be better than my original one. Thank you, Ashley, for reminding me how important it is to keep the little girl inside me alive. It is with her in mind that I vow to HAVE FUN while creating this film. Now, on to the edit! About 200 GB of footage awaits...