There once was a time in Canada when you could work at one or maybe two jobs until retirement, collect your pension and enjoy the golden years of your life. There was also a time when very few women worked outside of the home. If they did, it was most likely part-time work where the income was supplementary to her husband’s income. Today, Canadians can expect to work well beyond the traditional retirement age. Also, Canadian women have entered and succeed in all kinds of professions. They have even launched their own successful careers while juggling family responsibilities at the same time. Mabel Robinson, the energetic 90-year old star of Teresa MacInnes’ 20-minute short film Mabel (2016), is one of those pioneering Canadian women who did just that.
Using a mix of animated photos, archived footage and in-salon interviews, Mabel documents the life of Mabel Robinson as Hubbards, Nova Scotia’s first female entrepreneur and her 70-year career. Knowing at a young age that the wanted to be a hairdresser, she was determined to make it happen and made the sacrifices to do so. By attending hairdressing school in Boston, Mabel laid the foundations of her lifelong career. Moving back to Hubbards, not only did she get to pursue her dream career, she established her own hairstyling shop and raised a family while doing so. Despite her aging and the death of her husband, Mabel shows no signs of calling it quits. Watch the entire film below:
Teresa shared some of her thoughts and experiences surrounding the film, and revealed some interesting details about Mabel Robinson that didn’t make it into the documentary:
Short Film Fan: What motivated or influenced you to make Mabel?
Teresa MacInnes: I have always been attracted to the wisdom and charm of older people. I had a close relationship with my grandparents growing up and three of them lived out their final years in our family home. So, when I met the iconic beautician, Mabel Robinson, I immediately saw the potential for an engaging documentary about her and the elderly clients she continues to serve. Like my grandmother, Mabel made me laugh and inspired a deeper perspective on work, life and beauty. She also reminded me of the importance of having older women in my life and on the screen.
When I brought the idea to Annette Clarke at the NFB Atlantic Studio, she was also charmed by Mabel and felt it was an important story to tell – a story that highlighted not only women in their golden years, but also people living in rural Nova Scotia. Annette’s support and encouragement gave me the time to shape the story and to create the film.
SFF: What challenge or challenges did you face when you were making this film?
TM: I have been making feature length and television documentaries for 30 years, so I think the biggest challenge was keeping the film under 30 minutes. Mabel is an amazing woman and the story I tell is only one aspect of who she is. She is an accomplished knitter who sells her gorgeous hats, mittens and sweaters at the farmer’s market. She plays poker and bingo. She is a dedicated volunteer and has a rich circle of friends. But, doing a short portrait was the plan from the beginning and I am glad I took that challenge on. I love the short format and hope to do more in the future.
SFF: Do you have a memorable moment that occurred when you were producing Mabel?
TM: The entire experience was memorable and spending time with Mabel and her clients was exactly what I needed in my life at that time. I was grieving my father’s death and was feeling a bit weary from years of making some pretty intense films. Mabel gave me another perspective and I now look at my work and my life in a very different way. I will always be thankful to her for that.
SFF: What has the audience reception towards the film been like since its release?
TM: When Mabel premiered at the Atlantic Film Festival, CBC News did a story about the film and it went viral; generating millions of views and hundreds of heartfelt comments. Because of this, the demand to see Mabel was immediate. As a result, the NFB decided to release it online via the NFB.ca site and YouTube. The ability to send a link and have it so accessible has been great, but it also means I haven’t had the pleasure of watching it with an audience as much as I would have liked. But, I am happy it is out there for the world to see and the NFB has done a great job of promoting it online.
SFF: What message or messages did you want to get across to the audience with Mabel?
TM: For me, Mabel is a trailblazer; a woman who not only broke barriers when she was young, but is also breaking barriers as a senior. Rooted in community, she is a celebration of doing what you love, of the importance of friendships and of staying active as you age.
Short Film Fan Review: This was a gem of a short documentary. It was heartwarming to see and experience the life of an extraordinary woman that came from a quiet place such as Hubbards, NS. Her focus and determination to get that career going as a young woman should be an inspiration to other young women and men. Conversely, those who are already lucky to be working in a career that they enjoy would want to think twice before considering retirement – why stop doing something you like to do just because you reach a certain age? The use of animated photos gave the documentary a certain charm that brought her past to life. Mabel is a short film that all can enjoy and it is certainly destined to become one of the National Film Board’s classic documentaries.