Ira Wohl on Best Sister

“Why did I decide to make a film about Philly's sister, Frances? Speaking at her funeral in 2006, I talked about her generosity, her good humor, her steadfastness of purpose in the face of adversity. Yet, despite all these admirable qualities, what Frances was really best at was being Frances. She was the truest to herself of any person I’ve ever known.

“What this created in her was a sense of dignity, which revealed itself in all aspects of her life, large and small, and it was this that I wished to portray when I set out to make Best Sister.

“My idea for this shoot was to avoid imposing anything of my own on the filming—to just follow Frances’ days, as she lived them, and see how they reflected back on her. There are some bigger tasks, such as a trip to the hairdresser, shopping at the market, an appointment with her doctor. But, ironically, the smaller the tasks are, the more they show about what it feels like, not only physically, but emotionally, to be 80 years old and still perform them.

“Simple acts such as putting on a pair of support-hose, or taking her daily dozen pills, or climbing up the steep flight of stairs standing between the street and her apartment, are no less insurmountable to Frances than climbing Mount Everest would be to us.

“There are many moments when Frances reminiscences about friends and family, her traditions and memories; her first and last tryout with The Ted Mack Amateur Hour; her first, but certainly not her last, date with her husband Norman. What these moments teach us is to recognize what is truly valuable about our lives. We have so much, and we tend to take a great deal of it for granted. Yet once it's gone, all we can do is mourn the loss, and perhaps wish we'd been better able to appreciate what we had when we had it.

“As we drew toward the end of our week's filming, I became intensely aware of the very particular and individual way Frances views the world and her place in it—her deep devotion to a struggling grandson, to an unfeeling daughter, and to her brother Philly, to whom she represents the last connection to family. This is what gives her life meaning, and she handles it as a sacred trust.

“Finally, there is the Passover seder, with her brother Philly—always up for a good time—putting in a very cheerful guest appearance. Frances had worried that the seder would never actually come together, until the moment when it did.

“Looking back now, I see that there are no important individual moments in Best Sister. Just one important person, who, by sharing her life with us in the most genuine and generous manner, is perhaps lighting the way for us all toward the end of our own journeys.”

--Ira Wohl