Seniors in the spotlight

SilverScenes Film Festival is truly an intergenerational affair. A free film festival aimed at dismantling ageism, SilverScenes is the brainchild of 94-year-old Toronto resident Sylvia Lustgarten. I am the daughter of Judy Gladstone, who is the festival’s executive director and the sister of Sylvia’s daughter-in-law. We are three generations of women who have witnessed the damaging effects of ageism and believe film holds the power to create change.  SilverScenes was designed to shatter stereotypes about seniors by shining a spotlight on older adults in front of and behind the camera.

The founder of SilverScenes, Sylvia Lustgarten knows first-hand about the power of art. She grew up in the rich cultural world of her father, J. I. Segal, a famed Yiddish poet. After receiving her bachelor’s degree at Sir George Williams College (now Concordia University) and a Master’s in Social Work from McGill University, Lustgarten studied art at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts under Group of Seven member Arthur Lismer. She has continued to be an active participant in the arts and Yiddish cultural renewal. She arranged and taught a variety of art classes, led a series of Yiddish study groups and was the director of the Committee for Yiddish at the UJA.

Lustgarten is committed to helping marginalised groups such as the elderly and the disabled, and running a group that established assisted living apartments for Jews with disabilities.

Bespectacled, and adorned with a striking white bob, reminiscent of Edna from The Incredibles, the SilverScenes founder is an enchanting personality. At our regular Shabbat dinners together as a family, she spoke about her lofty goal to start a film festival that celebrates older adults in all their complexity. At first my mom, (a cultural maven with an award-winning career in the film industry) joked that Toronto already has too many film festivals. Then the pandemic hit. Over 70 percent of Canada’s COVID-19 deaths occurred among those 80 and older.

Alarming information about the treatment of Canadian nursing home residents has been available for years, but when coronavirus ravaged long-term care facilities, people finally seemed to take notice. Even still, countless Gen Xers started referring to the virus as ‘the boomer remover’, feeling emboldened to unleash animosity towards their elders online. It became clear to Lustgarten and my mom  that something had to be done. Due to the film’s unique ability to entertain and educate, they knew it was the perfect vehicle to humanise the stories of senior citizens.

Together with entertainment lawyer Divya Shahani, artivist for the African diaspora Nicole Brooks, project manager Shantay Parsons as well as content supervisor Tori Nixon, and their partners National Film Board (NFB), Harbourfront Centre, and the Older Adults Centres Association of Ontario  (OACAO), the SilverScenes Film Festival was successfully launched.

The inaugural festival was held online from November 5 to 7. Each film was specifically curated for audiences of all ages in order to shatter stereotypes about seniors. Every event ended with a live panel discussion with filmmakers and experts in their field including Oscar winning actor Louis Gossett Jr. Hundreds of Canadian tuned in, with even The Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson in attendance. 

You can check out the festival at and on social media @silverscenesfilmfestival. Keep your eyes peeled for an announcement about the 2021 edition of the festival and find out about upcoming special events by signing up at

Header image design by Orly Zebak. Photograph courtesy of Ella Gladstone-Martin. 

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