“Cyber-Seniors” is a comedic documentary about teenagers volunteering to teach seniors how to use Facebook, YouTube, and everything else on the Internet. The senior students are in their 80s and 90s and most start out saying things like, “I’m too old to learn.” Hilarity ensues as the teenagers and seniors get to know each other during these tutoring sessions. This is director Saffron Cassaday’s first feature-length film and she agreed to sit down with Examiner Dorri Olds for an exclusive interview last Tuesday, May 16.
Saffron, now 26, got the idea for the documentary from her younger sisters Kascha, now 21, and Macaulee, 19, who came up with the idea for a community outreach project in high school after watching their grandparents learn how to use the Web. In 2009 Kascha and Macaulee gathered a group of willing teenagers and paired them up with seniors at local retirement residences.
Big sis Saffron went along with cameras to document the process. “At first I was just filming what was happening to be supportive,” said Saffron, “but then I realized there was an important story to tell.” To round out the family participation, their Mom came onboard as film producer and Dad served as helpful sounding board. The beautiful, talented and well-spoken Saffron Cassaday was full of energy and excited to talk about her project.
Dorri Olds: What was the most surprising part of this journey?
Saffron Cassaday: How quickly the mentors took to it and how much they enjoyed it.
Did you see the friendships between the teens and the seniors deepen as time went on?
Totally. The students developed a lot of respect for the people they tutored. They really enjoyed hearing stories. Ellard, one character who is 90 years old, is a war vet. His young mentor Henri loved hearing stories about the war. He enjoyed when Ellard would take out this big box of stuff including old shrapnel from a plane in World War II.
Have any of the teens stayed in touch with the seniors? Do they still visit them?
Yes, Henri is still teaching both Ellard and Annette. Max was still in touch with Shura, but unfortunately she passed away.
Shura was really the star of the film. What a personality!
Yeah, she was fantastic. We were very lucky to find her. Everyone that meets her falls in love with her. She picked things up quickly and was the most active online. Right up until she passed away in November she was on Facebook every day. By the end of filming it was easier to get in touch with her on Facebook than it was to call her. She was always on her computer. Max went to the funeral and met her entire family and they were all so grateful for the lessons he’d given her.
It was funny how she critiqued the other videos during the contest.
[Laughs] I know! She got very into the competition. Some people said, “Why did you put that in there? She’s supposed to be this sweet little old lady?” But I felt she’s allowed to say things about other people. Why not? It’s her personality. I think it makes her more likable. She wears her heart on her sleeve and without a filter. She doesn’t care what other people think of her.
Her enjoyment and competitive nature was one of the most lovable parts of the film.
I thought so, too.
A lot of filmmakers get overwhelmed during the editing process. Did you have burst into tears moments?
There were a couple of times when I had these nervous hives break out on my body. I had to take Benadryl to keep them at bay. People have asked me how much coffee I drank to get through the editing process but I couldn’t drink coffee because I was so up I had trouble sleeping at night, especially after editing 10 hours in a day. My mind was just racing.
On a more personal note, I read that you were sitting behind Ryan Gosling in a screening of “Blue Valentine,” and you cried. When he got up did he look at you like, “Oh, there’s the crying woman”?
[Laughs] No, he did not look back. Maybe he didn’t hear me crying. Maybe I wasn’t as loud as I thought it was. I wanted to go up and say hi but I couldn’t. My face was so swollen from crying that I thought it best to just let him walk by.
What was he wearing?
A leather jacket and jeans.
Wow, I bet he looked great.
Yeah, he did. [Laughs]
“Cyber-Seniors” opened in in New York Fri., May 16, 2014 then opens wide on Sept. 7, which is Grandparents Day. Not rated. 75 minutes.