By Lynne Beverly Strang
Melissa Davey films an opening sequence for her documentary, Beyond Sixty Project
In October, I went to see Beyond Sixty Project in this year’s Washington West Film Festival held in Reston Town Center, Virginia. The 77-minute documentary features a series of interviews with 10 women over the age of 60 who have stories of resilience and continued relevance today.
All 10 women are remarkable. Among those profiled are a veterinarian who is the oldest U.S. woman to swim the English Channel, a psychoanalyst/drama therapist once married to Pablo Picasso’s son, and a voice-over artist who is the voice of Apple’s Siri.
But here’s the thing: Melissa Davey, the film’s director and executive producer, is pretty remarkable herself. The grandmother of three started making movies almost four years ago, when she was 65 years old.
A Pivotal Moment
For aspiring entrepreneurs, an instructive element of Davey’s journey is the pivotal moment that prompted her to move forward. As her story shows, it isn’t enough to get a lucky break. It’s what you do with that break that matters.
In her earlier life, Davey was an executive with a national managed care company. In 2015, she drove from her home in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania to attend a meeting in Washington, D.C. The meeting was a dreary, depressing replica of so many others she had endured throughout her two decades in a corporate career.
Davey didn’t go to her office when she returned to Pennsylvania that afternoon. In need of a respite, she asked a friend to meet her for lunch. Later, they went for a drive in the country and happened to come across a movie shoot taking place at an old farmhouse. They pulled over to take in the bustle of activity from afar.
“Making a film is an amazing experience. Sometimes I feel like I won the lottery. To learn something new at my age is exhilarating and exhausting in a good way.” — Melissa Davey
As the two friends sat parked on the side of a dirt road, Davey did an internet search on her phone. She learned that the movie’s director was M. Night Shyamalan, a local filmmaker who has a foundation that supports leaders with a special interest in education.
A few more clicks revealed that the foundation was auctioning “A Day on the Set with M. Night Shyamalan” to raise funds for its mission. Davey began bidding right then and there in the car – and kept at it for two weeks. She finally won after outbidding a dentist from New Jersey.
“I Want Your Job”
The day on the movie set was both exhilarating and educational. During a lunch break, Shyamalan asked Davey about her aspirations. “I want your job,” she replied. His response: You better hurry up.
“That simple, very short conversation was all it took for me to make the decision to retire from my career and move to my second act as a film director” she said.
Filmmaker Melissa Davey answers questions from the audience at the 2019 Washington West Film Festival
Since then, Davey’s life has been a whirlwind of endless tasks. She has had to hire a production crew and maintain a budget when she no longer had a paycheck. To select the women profiled in the film, she did phone interviews with nearly 100 candidates, spending two hours on the phone with each one.
On top of everything else, Davey was sick for more than a year with Lyme disease. She has tested herself, made mistakes, corrected them and felt a great sense of accomplishment.
For Davey, what’s especially gratifying is the fact that her project inspires people of all ages. After her documentary’s showing in Virginia, she was on hand to answer questions from the audience. The young woman who introduced her was moved to tears by what she had just seen on the screen.
“I hope young women will be inspired to seek out older women as mentors,” said Davey. “And I hope all people – men and women, young and old — will walk away with a deep sense of appreciation and admiration for women’s struggles and their hard-earned accomplishments throughout history.”
Now that Beyond Sixty Project is completed, Davey is exploring distribution options. She also wants to produce more movies, of course.
“Making a film is an amazing experience,” she said. “Sometimes I feel like I won the lottery. To learn something new at my age is exhilarating and exhausting in a good way.”