There are a few things Becca Friedman learned while filming her documentary on geriatric animals, but one resonated with her most -- it isn't any easier for animals to age than it is for humans.
It's not something most people think about.
"We're all very much alike when it comes to the concept of life and mortality," says Friedman, 27, of San Rafael. "We're all important at every age. Everybody deserves a little love no matter how old they are, no matter if they're animal or human."
Friedman's 23-minute film, "Past Their Prime," is among the films featured at the 12th annual Tiburon International Film Festival, which runs April 11 to 19.
While her film touches on how zoos are adjusting to their geriatric animals, its main focus is on Colo, the world's first captive-born gorilla and, at age 56, the oldest. Friedman interviews Colo's keepers at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio as they prepare for the primate's 55th birthday celebration, including a gorilla-friendly birthday cake, presents and colorful paper garlands.
Like many senior citizens, Colo has its share of aches and pains; the gorilla gets tired faster and needs a little more TLC than in the past.
And, the animal's just not as popular as it used to be.
"When a baby animal is born, you have a crowd of people who come see the baby. It certainly was the case when Colo was born, for more than she was just the first. Baby animals are cute; there's no denying that," says Friedman, who dreamed of being a veterinarian when she was younger. "Older animals, when they sleep more, and they move slower, and they have thinning hair or walk with a limp, it's harder to get people to come and see them. It's something the Columbus Zoo does well. They make sure they're still relevant."
Friedman was lucky to know many of the people behind the scenes at the Columbus Zoo; as a kid, she spent a lot of time there with her father, Daniel, a TV cameraman and video editor. She used some of her father's archival footage in the film.
While the documentary was shot for her senior thesis at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, she learned as much about the preciousness of life as editing and producing a professional documentary.
"I started looking at the way I'm aging and the way all the people around me, my family, are aging," says Friedman, who works at Pixar as a production assistant.
At the same time that she was editing her documentary, her mother, Irene, was diagnosed with the same kind of cancer that killed Dianna Frisch, the zoo's head keeper of the great apes, in January 2012, and who is featured in "Past Their Prime." Friedman has dedicated the film in her memory.
"It was a really difficult time," she says. "It made the film much more important to me. To me, the film is not just about how animals age in the zoo; it's about the way we all age and the way we all cope with illnesses and the way things are thrown at us. Animals in zoos, more than others, rely completely on people in their immediate vicinity. So it's interesting how much we rely on each other, especially as we begin to age."
Her film has won numerous awards at film festivals around the country, as well as the 2012 CINE Golden Eagle and was nominated for a 2013 Student Emmy. It's also garnered kudos from film critics.
"'Past Their Prime' is really a love song to these elder animals," writes Richard Propes at the Independent Critic. "'Past Their Prime' is a film that will make you think and make you feel and make you, hopefully, appreciate more fully the world around you and the animals with which we share it."
"A perfect mix between joyous and melancholy," writes Robert C. Sickels, director of the film and media studies program at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash.
"It's incredibly humbling," Friedman says of all the accolades. "To be as well received as it has been so far, it's a pretty surreal experience."
Vicki Larson can be reached at email@example.com; follow her on Twitter at @OMGchronicles, fan her on Facebook at Vicki-Larson-OMG-Chronicles ___