Joshua Seftel: The story behind "My Mom on Movies"


Filmmaker Joshua Seftel with his mother, Pat Seftel, star of the Internet series, "My Mom on Movies."

Joshua Seftel

Joshua Seftel is an award-winning director of features ("War, Inc.," with John Cusack, Ben Kingsley and Marisa Tomei), documentaries ("Taking on the Kennedys"), and TV and radio ("Queer Eye," "This American Life").

Hardly anyone becomes famous in the autumn of her life. But at age 76, my Mom, Pat, has become a semi-celebrity. These days she gets interviewed by newspapers. Photographers come to her house to take pictures of her. And she's been a guest on radio and TV shows.

Lee and Pat Seftel. Joshua Seftel

It all started four years ago. My father, Lee, a beloved obstetrician in upstate New York, was ill. Right before he passed away, he urged my two sisters and me to "take care of Mom." We did our best. But the way of the phone call was rapidly being eclipsed by emails and texting. And my mother hated using the computer. We were worried we were losing touch with her.

So for my Mom's 75th birthday, we bought her an iPad with a baby blue cover, and I flew down to Sarasota, Fla., to teach her how to use it.

When I took the sleek iPad from its minimal white box, my Mom pretended to be happy, but I could tell it stressed her out.

After two days of tutorials -- with breaks for typically huge lunches and dinners at nearby restaurants -- she took to the iPad. She could email and play Words with Friends. She even learned to video chat on Facetime -- or as my Mom calls it, "Facelift."

Suddenly, we could talk and we could see each other. She was connected.

That's when I got an idea. I'm a film director. And my mom has always dreamed of being on TV and in movies. She grew up in Washington, D.C., and in her twenties she settled down with my dad in Schenectady, N.Y. Although she worked for years as a nurse and social worker, she always had strong opinions on the people and the world around her.

And she was never shy about sharing her thoughts.

So I started to film our "Facelift" conversations. We called it "My Mom on Movies." And every week, she'd tell me about one of her favorite topics: show business.

I never tell her the topic of the day ahead of time, yet somehow her routine of watching "Good Morning America" and reading the gossip magazines at the beauty parlor every Friday have provided her a rich knowledge of the goings-on in celebrity culture. Soon we were talking about everything from Alec Baldwin's anger problems, to Lena Dunham's tattoos, to twerking.

My mother's opinions are razor-sharp and full of wisdom. Her voice is one that is sorely missing in today's chatter -- compassionate, not shrill, yet not pulling any punches. It's the voice of someone who has lived and seen everything, and isn't afraid to tell the truth.

She called Lance Armstrong the "Madoff of the cycling world," and she told Alec Baldwin he needs to "get help," but she did it only in the way a 76-year-old Jewish grandmother can.

Though it may sound superficial, organizing my conversations with my mother around celebrities and gossip has helped us connect in a new way.

It got us off our usual, sometimes stressful "scripts" of wondering when we would see each other next, what time we would meet, what we would eat when we met. Suddenly we were talking like friends do, about things that were fun to talk about. And in the process, I've gotten to know my mother better.

These days, my Mom and I talk regularly. It's a ritual. When a new episode goes up on Facebook, my sisters and I revel in the comments people post. "I love your mother. She is sweet, adorable, thoughtful, refreshing," one person writes. "She's just like my mother was," writes another fan. It's a reminder of things that are so easy to take for granted. And it makes us see our Mom in a fresh new way.

When people ask me about it, I say, "Everyone should do a web series with your mother." It might make your mother famous, but I promise it will go much deeper than that.

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