‘A Subject That Resonates’: Documentary about loneliness brings people together at West Newton cinema

Many in the crowd raised their hands.

“It’s a topic that resonates,” Colino said later in an interview. “We help people every day who live in isolation every day of their lives. So I really wanted the wider community to listen to what this topic is about and how it might unfold on a day-to-day basis.

In March 2020, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged adults 60 or older to stay home and limit social interactions, as they were one of the groups most at risk for serious illness. or death from COVID-19.

At this point, the effects of loneliness and social isolation on older adults were already a topic of conversation – more than a third of American adults aged 45 and older said they felt lonely in 2018, according to a American Association of Retired Persons survey.

“A lot of people have felt lonely for the past two and a half years,” Newtonville resident Betsy Louise Simmons said moments before the screening. “I feel like we all need each other, at all ages.”

Recent research has noted how important communities are in addressing social isolation.

A 2021 report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Healthy Places by Design, a wellness-focused nonprofit, made five recommendations to create a framework for building and nurturing socially connected communities to respond to the problem.

At the June 15 screening, Janet Seckel-Cerrotti, founder and executive director of FriendshipWorks, a Boston-based nonprofit, said her organization’s mission is to reduce social isolation and improve quality of senior living, adding that she was looking to continue her partnership with Newton.

“We live a life of interdependence,” Seckel-Cerrotti said. “Most of us want to be there for someone else.”

The audience was lively, and at one point a teenage girl depicted in the film spoke of her parents, describing them as “pretty old, in their 50s”. The audience laughed.

As a potential solution, the documentary highlighted “Happy to Chat” benches, which include a friendly sign on a bench inviting pedestrians to sit down and chat.

During a Q&A at the end of the event, an audience member said he would like to see the city bring these benches to Newton.

In response, Mayor Ruthanne Fuller has asked the Office of Cultural Development to look into doing just that, according to her spokesperson, Ellen Ishkanian.

The documentary provided several “life hacks” for coping with loneliness and social isolation, such as seeking help early, getting out of your comfort zone, participating in group activities, and expressing gratitude.

Newton Upper Falls resident Emily Kaye said she resonated with many scenes in the documentary, having felt “lonely and isolated” throughout the pandemic.

“It’s tragic, and I’m sad for others and I’m sad for myself,” Kaye said, adding that while she’s reluctant to believe that many of the solutions presented in the film could apply to her, she is considering to put them into action nonetheless.

The screening was followed by an on-screen interview between Colino and the film’s producer, Joseph Applebaum, who called by video from Atlanta.

Applebaum said he and the film’s director, Stu Maddux, hope to reach communities “on a local level,” through screenings at small, independent theaters.

“That’s where the change is going to happen,” Applebaum said.

The June 15 screening was one of the biggest audiences West Newton Cinema has seen since the pandemic began, longtime owner David Bramante said.

Applebaum said he decided on the subject of the documentary in 2019 after asking, via a survey, what audiences of their previous documentary thought was the next big under-discussed issue, Applebaum said.

Respondents, more than 3,000 in total, Applebaum said, highlighted loneliness and isolation.

“We were shocked, we were absolutely shocked,” Applebaum said. “As we got into it, we realized, ‘Wow, that’s big. “”

Wendy Haskell, a volunteer with the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Newton, said in an interview that the screening provided a “collective community to discuss the issue.”

“I think we need more of these community conversations and a way to bring together seniors in particular to do this sharing,” Haskell said.

Cici Yu and Jesús Marrero Suárez can be reached at newtonreport@globe.com.

More than 130 people gathered at the West Newton Cinema on June 15 to watch a documentary, “All the Lonely People.”
Jesus Marrero Suarez

Jessica C. Bell