Hats Off, a feature-length documentary, profiles the beauty and eccentricities of an extraordinary woman, 93-year-old actress Mimi Weddell.With the style and grace of Katharine Hepburn, the smoky wit and wisdom of Dorothy Parker and her own personal philosophy “rise above it,” Mimi is truly an iconic American original, rising above the mundane and difficult confines of her own daily life, to reach for the stars and fulfill her dreams.
Hats Off captures the essence of this unique woman whose full-time acting career began at age 65, and whose daily routine mocks the traditional image of old age. From her 14-hour days at acting auditions and cattle calls, to her weekly gymnastics and dance workouts, Mimi Weddell exudes a ‘can-do, will-do’ attitude in the face of life’s trials and tribulations, and moves through her challenges with grace, encouraging us all to be more than we are
Hats Off is Jyll Johnstone‘s third film. Her first, Martha and Ethel, premiered at Sundance in 1994 and was subsequently presented at film festivals including Toronto, San Francisco (Grand Prize), Hamptons (Best Documentary), Melbourne, Sydney, Hong Kong. Martha and Ethel garnered Ms. Johnstone a Directors Guild nomination and the film has been distributed by Sony Picture Classics.
Throwing Curves, Johnstone’s second film, is the story of famed ceramicist and industrial designer Eva Zeisel. The film follows Ms. Zeisel from her birth in Hungary in 1906 through her career in many of the 20th century’s hot spots of design, including Berlin in the ’20s, Russia in the ’30s and New York in the ’50s.
Cinema Without Borders: How did you come up with the idea of making Hats Off? Did you know Mimi personally?
Jyll Johnstone: I have known Mimi since I was a child. Sarah, her daughter, and I went to school together in Manhattan. In my 30’s I was an actress and occasionally ran into Mimi at the SAG office in New York. I always found her to be so different from all the other older women I came in contact with, intriguing enough to start filming her when she was 83 years old.
CWB: Did you have an idea about the way you wanted to portray Mimi’s life prior to shooting the film or did you come up with the structure when editing your film?
Jyll: It took the editing process to come up with a structure to the film. We would get to a certain point, and realize we needed, for example, more auditions. So we would go back to NYC and film her once again.
CWB: Watching Hats Off, one notices the very special character of Mimi. She has her strong ideas and rules. How challenging was making this film? Did you spend time with Mimi outside of shooting?
Jyll: Mimi is challenging. What was hard for me was to try and get her to not work the camera!
When you work on a film for 10 years, of course you develop an intimacy with your protagonist, but after a day of shooting I would not spend extra time with Mimi. We were both exhausted. However, in Florence, I did spend more time with her. She was the happiest I had ever seen her. It was really quite something.
CWB: What have been the audience’s responses to Hats Off? Did you have a chance to find out what the young people think about the film?
Jyll: The audience really loves Mimi, her style, her character and her desire to just keep going. They often say how excited they are to see a film that is not so youth orientated. Young people also seem to take to this film, especially actors and artists. She is cool.
CWB: I strongly believe anyone could learn about loving life and about being active and creative regardless of one’s age from Hats Off, but I am curious to know what has been the reaction of the older generation to the film?
Jyll: Older people are just enthralled with Mimi, and find her philosophy and character to be very inspiring. I have had many older viewers come up to me and say that they have not gone to see a movie in years, but they felt compelled to see this after reading the reviews.
CWB: What was Mimi’s response after watching the edited film?
Jyll: Mimi has always said that what we have done is her life and she is very moved by the film.
CWB: Please tell us about your future projects.
Jyll: I have many ideas, but I am very involved right now in bringing Hats Off to its audience. My husband, Michael Arlen Davis and I are also distributing this film, and along with being parents this is definitely a full time job!