Susan Polis Schutz: After a long career as a poet, this La Jolla filmmaker creates ‘documentaries that make a difference’

By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt

Don’t worry, be happy. Those four little words are a key to the full, fulfilling lives of the 90- and 100-year-olds featured in “Over 90 and Loving It,” a documentary by longtime La Jolla resident Susan Polis Schutz. First screened at the Jewish Film Festival in February, it drew such a crowd that two additional screening rooms were opened to accommodate the audience. On April 20, it will have its “official” premiere at the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla.

For the film, Schutz interviewed people across the country, from all walks of life, including her husband’s uncle, a 94-year-old New York City cabdriver. Each five-hour interview included the same 50 questions.

NOW: Susan Polis Schutz poses in her La Jolla office, with the first poster she and Stephen made together — 41 years, three children, and hundreds of illustrated poems later. Lonnie Hewitt

“The hardest part was cutting that five hours down to five minutes,” Schutz said, “and deciding which people to use in the film. It’s always hard to drop people, when you come to love them all.”

The 13 who made the cut have certain things in common: a healthy lifestyle, a positive attitude, and a commitment to following their passions. They don’t focus on their age or health problems, and they’re not afraid of death.

Some of these over-90s have extraordinary skills, like the Senior Olympics medalist who is still running, shot-putting, and pole vaulting at age 94.

Or the ragtime-piano-playing couple who have been making music together since 1947.

But most are just ordinary folks busy making the most of the rest of their lives. And that involves doing for others. As one woman, a 97-year-old African-American who organizes major giveaways to the needy, says: “Helping somebody — that’s what I love to do.” Says another, “To be able to make a difference is exhilarating.”

“That’s why I’m making my films,” said Schutz. It’s the motto of her film company, Iron Zeal: “Documentaries that make a difference.”

Schutz has come a long way from Peekskill, the small town in upstate New York where she grew up in the 1950s, wanting to be the first female pro baseball player.

Instead, she began writing heartfelt poetry, took a teaching job in New York City’s Harlem ghetto, was drawn into 1960’s activism, and met her husband, Stephen, who had a doctorate in physics and a talent for art.

The two made their way to Boulder, Colorado, where Stephen had a job in solar physics, and Susan worked as a freelance writer until one fateful day in 1970, when he decided to illustrate a poem she had written to a friend.

THEN: Susan and her husband/collaborator Stephen in 1970, in Boulder, Colorado where Blue Mountain Arts was born and still thrives. Courtesy

They started silk-screening posters in their basement, selling them from the back of their pickup truck. Then they branched out into greeting cards — the humble beginning of their wildly successful company, Blue Mountain Arts.

With Susan’s ability to put her personal experiences into words that millions of people could identify with, Blue Mountain cards were like something you’d get from a caring, compassionate, sweetly articulate friend.

Books and calendars followed, and then, in the 1990s, they pioneered electronic greeting cards by launching bluemountain.com. They sold that part of the company in 1999.

“We got into it because we had nice messages,” said Schutz. “But the business part — all that deal-making — was not for us.”

Filmmaking became her new passion. In 2005, she produced and directed “Anyone and Everyone,” with parents of gay sons and daughters speaking frankly about their kids’ coming out. Like her poems, the film came from personal experience, since her oldest son is gay.

“I saw the torture he and his friends went through, telling their families, and what the families went through, and I found some wonderful people to be in the film,” Schutz said.

All her films have the same interview format, and generally deal with some issue she’s faced in her life. There’s one on depression, another on following your dreams.

Her current project deals with resiliency: How do you turn your life around after tragedy? And she keeps in touch with many of the people in her films.

Senior Olympic pole vaulter Don Pellmann plans to attend the ‘Over 90’ premiere party in La Jolla.

Schutz works with the same team, year after year. Karen Bidgood, her executive assistant for the past 13 years, is her associate producer. (Not so long, in Schutz-time — many of the Blue Mountain staff have been with her more than 30 years!)

KPBS has presented all her films, and distributes them to other public television stations. It will host the screening/reception at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

If you go

What: KPBS-hosted premiere of “Over 90 and Loving It”

When: Wednesday, April 20; 6:30-7 p.m. refreshments; 7-8 p.m. screening, followed by a discussion moderated by Susan Polis Schutz with “stars” from the film

Where: Museum of Contemporary Art La Jolla, 700 Prospect St.

Free admission: Reservations required.

RSVP: Karen Bidgood (858) 456-2336 or kbidgood@sps.com

On TV: If you miss the screening, KPBS will air “Over 90” at 8 p.m. April 26. Schutz’s first film, “Anyone and Everyone,” will air at 11 p.m. April 25.

On the Web: ironzeal.com

A Poem Excerpt

This life is yours …

Take the power

to create your own dreams

and try hard to reach them.

Take the power to make your life

healthy

exciting

worthwhile

and very happy.

— Susan Polis Schutz

Related posts:

  1. 45 films / 10 days: La Jollan is one of the many stars in 21st San Diego Jewish Film Festival
  2. Mission of Mercy: La Jolla nurse talks about her time with quake victims in Haiti
  3. They’re Engaged
  4. Shopping event in La Jolla to benefit Children’s Hospital on Dec. 8
  5. Let Inga Tell You: There’s an art to driving your waiter wacko

Short URL: http://www.lajollalight.com/?p=39405

Posted by Staff on Apr 14, 2011. Filed under La Jolla Life, Life. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

3 Comments for “Susan Polis Schutz: After a long career as a poet, this La Jolla filmmaker creates ‘documentaries that make a difference’”

  1. Valarie Marshall

    I expected, after discoverinig the Blue Mountain Cards creators were these wonderful people, there would be no room for any posting from me. I was again surprised and amazed to find the complete opposite. I should KNOW by now though that such greatness is rarely acknowledged in honesty, these people and ideals are usually underated, unappreciated or overlooked. Anyhow thank you both for being the creations that God had to have molded! I pray that you remain or grow stronger in your innate being. I fell in love with Over 90 and Loving it and felt compel to write, not knowing that this is also my absolute FAVORITE greeting cards, books, etc…PLEAse COMMUNICATE. I;ve a wonderful idea that would be beneficial to countless individuals. Thank you for the opportunity to communicate.

  2. keith hoover

    Great piece of educational material. I hope people like you will never stop trying to fight against ignorance and social stigmas. I have many battles myself. One of them is depression. When you open your mind to the truth and set aside judgemental attitudes you truly are set free. God is the only judge. I wish people would realize how powerful this statement is. Keep up the work. Our world despetately needs to be enlightened.

  3. lee kearney

    I saw your Documentary, “Anyone and Everyone” for the first time on PBS this week. It was beautifully done! I could relate to all that was said and am grateful that support for gay children/adults is getting into the media.I am the mother of a gay son who struggled with addiction and ultimately HIV/AIDS. He passed away in 1993. I was an activist back then. I wrote a memoir published in 2012 about our journey. Titled, “He Always Brought Me Flowers,” A Mother’s Remembrance of Her Son’s Journey. (Yawn’s Publishing).I
    t is a story of Love not judgment. The book is previewed on Amazon and has a few reviews. I will be glad to send you a copy if you are interested. Again, t

    hanks for all the good work you do.

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