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Documentary by Oxford seniors explores becoming a ‘Friend of a Friend’

Samuel van Vleet and his filmmaker students through the Institute for Learning in Retirement sit down for a Q&A panel about their film, “Friend of a Friend.”
Samuel van Vleet and his filmmaker students through the Institute for Learning in Retirement sit down for a Q&A panel about their film, “Friend of a Friend.”

On Nov. 3, the Oxford Community Arts Center (OCAC) hosted the premiere of a short film by the “How to Make a Movie” class taught by Samuel Van Vleet. Van Vleet taught the course through the Institute for Learning in Retirement (ILR), with every student being an Oxford community member.

The documentary, “Friend of a Friend,” focuses on how older adults can make friends and be involved within the Oxford community. 

“One thing I noticed over the last probably five years of working in gerontology was that in the classroom … there weren't really any older adults,” Van Vleet said.

Van Vleet utilized the ILR, a Miami University program in which senior citizens can take classes on any subject of their choosing, to put this course into action.

“I workshopped the idea with my colleagues, saying, ‘You know, if we had a class [where] you teach people how to write a short film script, and then they can make it whatever,’” Van Vleet said.

During the five-week class, Van Vleet’s students brainstormed ideas to make their vision come to life. Two of Van Vleet’s students, Jerry Riesenberg and Paul Allen, elaborated on the process. 

“We came up with a title probably before we came up with the whole movie,” Riesenberg said.

Van Vleet’s class was not what Riesenberg and Allen expected — at first they went into it thinking it was going to purely teach them how movies are made, not to create something hands-on.

The private premiere aired at 7 p.m., and the public viewing started at 7:45 p.m. “Friend of a Friend” ran a little longer than 17 minutes, with many older residents of Oxford coming to support their loved ones involved in the production. A few of Van Vleet’s own students were present as well.

The film received good reception throughout the showing, with people reacting positively to their friends or relatives when they appeared onscreen, and the audience shared a few laughs.

“Friend of a Friend” highlighted that most of the students weren’t originally from Oxford; each scene walked people through the different spaces and opportunities to build community with other, older Oxford residents.

Following the end of the film, Van Vleet announced that appetizers would be served in a room down the hallway and a Q&A would follow. During this time, two of Van Vleet’s supporters spoke about their thoughts on the film – Nicole Campbell, who went to university with Van Vleet, and Emma Halcome, one of Van Vleet’s undergraduate students from Miami. 

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“I thought it was really sweet,” Halcolme said. “I thought it was a heartwarming story.”

Campbell really appreciated what the documentary was trying to say, and thought it opened an interesting conversation about how older people in a community can make new friends.

“It seems like they are really intentional in finding spaces for adults to find that community,” Campbell said. “So when you have those spaces gone, how do you find friends?”