Director’s Statement from Director Clay Stafford
My son attended Inge Smith’s preschool and I had known Inge in passing for several years. She was a delightful, well-educated lady who certainly loved children, but that was the extent of my knowledge of her. By happenstance, I heard that Inge was a Jewish Holocaust survivor. A few days later, someone mentioned that Inge’s life had been threatened several times in Mississippi during the Civil Rights era. On the next Monday morning after I dropped off my son at her preschool, I felt compelled to ask her about these things and this documentary was born.
I assembled a small crew of three and, as we got into the life of Inge Meyring Smith, we were amazed on a personal level how one person can so drastically influence her world and also how such an impact can be relatively unknown in our age of excessive information. Her life truly has made a difference, but little is known of her.
Rather than bring in a narrator, I decided to tell Inge’s story through her and those who had shared her life. Phillip Lacy, our cinematographer, and I shot (along with sound mixer Ken Landers) over 35 hours of footage of Inge and of many who had grown older with her. This is their story in their own words.
We shot Inge in standard HD in her home and shot everyone else in 24P in our studio to create a distinctive “feel” between Inge’s chronological forward-moving memories and the counter-point of the other commentaries looking at Inge’s life in reverse, from now to back then. I nearly trashed the swimming sequence – a shame because swimming is an integral part of Inge’s life – but finally decided to divide the sequence into progressive parts and space it throughout the film allowing Inge to metaphorically swim through her life, propelled through the thick water only by her own volition.
Ken Landers was our composer, as well as our location sound recordist. I had never worked with Ken prior to this and it was the perfect project. Because the story of Inge’s life spans the 1930’s to present and covers two continents, we decided to compose different period music for each “chapter” of Inge’s life. The result bridges German baroque, New York jazz, Louisiana bayou, Nashville country, and instrumental modern.
We shot this project over an 8-month period using a bare-bones crew of three. In her life, Inge has been able to accomplish much with only her crew of one. Because of her and the courageous choices that she made with her life, the world is a better place for little ones such as my son. When one day my son should ask that basic question, “What is the meaning of life?” I think I may recommend that he watch this film. Inge has much to teach us all. I know at least one filmmaker who has certainly been inspired by simply getting to know her.