In the plot of Melissa Davey’s life, a belated foray into filmmaking came as an unexpected twist. That’s only fitting, given that the person who convinced her to plunge into her new career was none other than the king of cinematic plot twists himself, M. Night Shyamalan.
Davey stumbled upon one of the filmmaker’s shoots near her home in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, in 2014. There, she learned of a contest to win a day on set with Shyamalan, the director of blockbusters “The Sixth Sense” and “Unbreakable.”
Davey won the contest, and just three years later, she’s finishing up a documentary film called “The Beyond Sixty Project,” which profiles women over 60 who are living vibrant lives.
“I wanted to profile normal, regular, everyday women who have great stories and who remain resilient and relevant as they age,” Davey said.
Among the people who Davey profiles in the film is Paula Yankauskas, 62, who became the oldest U.S. woman to swim the English Channel in September 2016. Yankauskas, who also runs one of Vermont’s largest veterinary practices, crossed the 21 miles between Britain and France in 16 hours.
Paula Yankauskas, 62, is a veterinarian and owner of Lamoille Valley Veterinary Services in
Hyde Park, Vermont. Aside from running one of Vermont’s largest vet practices, Paula is an
avid swimmer. In September 2016, she became the oldest U.S. woman to swim the English Channel, traversing the 21 miles between Britain and France in 16 hours.
“She’s so unassuming and so nonchalant about her life and what she’s done,” Davey said. In fact, Davey recalled that when she approached Yankauskas to be part of the documentary, “she said, ‘Well, do you think that’s that remarkable?’ She really meant it!”
Davey needn’t look further than the mirror to find an example of a woman with an inspirational journey. After building a successful career in Social Security law and disability case management, she took a leap of faith after her encounter with Shyamalan, leaving the security of her job to pursue filmmaking in her mid-60s when most of her contemporaries were eagerly anticipating retirement. Davey readily acknowledges that she might not have had the courage to make the leap, had it not been for Shyamalan.
During a lunch break on the film set at the 30th Street Amtrak station in Philadelphia, Davey got a chance to chat with Shyamalan about her job managing disability cases.
“He looked at me curiously and said, ‘What do you really want to do?’ I said, ‘I want your job,’” Davey recalled, to which Shyamalan responded, “Then you should do it. You better hurry up.” That advice clicked with Davey.
“Immediately, I said, ‘Why shouldn’t I do what I’ve always wanted to do? I don’t have that much time left,’” she said.
Over the course of the next year or so, Davey transitioned out of her job and into filmmaking, settling on the theme of her first film: women embarking on a strong second act. Then, she began reaching out to film production companies to hire the people with the technical skills she would need to make the film and researched women in the news that she wanted to profile, starting with psychoanalyst Sara Picasso Lavner after reading her book, “The Glitter Factory: The Making and Unmaking of Sara Picasso.”
Sara Picasso Lavner, 71, is the first drama therapist to become a psychoanalyst in New York
City and maintains a practice in Greenwich Village today. In her memoir, “The Glitter Factory:
The Making and Unmaking of Sara Picasso,” she recounts stories from the late ʼ60s and early ʼ70s when she was part of New York’s high society during her marriage to Pablo Picasso’s
son Claude. She was a caregiver to her second husband until his death.
“I cold-called her, and she was the first one who said yes,” Davey said.
Davey feared that industry collaborators she hired and interview subjects might be skeptical of the film given her lack of previous filmmaking experience, but those fears proved to be unfounded.
“I thought that maybe people wouldn’t take me seriously,” she said. “But that didn’t happen at all.”
It takes more than grit to get a film made, however, and Davey has had some good luck in that regard. A chance encounter with a longtime friend at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival in Utah led to a UnitedHealthcare sponsorship of her debut film. UnitedHealthcare is the largest provider of Medicare plans and counts one in five of the nation’s 59 million Medicare beneficiaries as its members.
“We are incredibly proud and grateful that UnitedHealthcare has come on as a sponsor of the Beyond Sixty Project. They’re a huge name and well respected,” Davey said, noting that the theme of her documentary ties in well with the company’s mission. “Their generous support has allowed us to complete our final two interviews and bring on an experienced documentary editor who is currently working on the rough cut of the film.”
“One thing we consistently hear from our members, and especially the baby boomers who have been aging into Medicare for the past several years, is that they want to maintain their health in large part so they can keep doing the things that are important to them,” said David Shapiro, chief consumer officer for UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement. “We view our role as helping people live the lives they want as they age. Melissa’s film showcases women who are doing just that, which is why we’re glad to have the chance to support it.”
Davey expects a first cut of the film to be ready by this fall. She is already beginning to explore distribution opportunities and is considering creating a Web series with additional interviews and bonus footage that don’t make it into the final cut of the film.
From leaving the comfort of a steady career to managing the massive undertaking of creating a film, none of it has been easy. But Davey has zero regrets.
“I never fit into any kind of mold, and the women I interviewed don’t either,” she said. “Those are the women that I’m searching for and talking with. It has been incredible work that I’ve enjoyed tremendously.”
Learn more about the film at www.BeyondSixtyProject.com.
Plans are insured through UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company or one of its affiliated companies. For Medicare Advantage and Prescription Drug Plans: A Medicare Advantage organization with a Medicare contract and a Medicare-approved Part D sponsor. Enrollment in these plans depends on the plan’s contract renewal with Medicare.