When we first met Sandy Moser, it was early in the pandemic and the almost 80-year-old had just burned through her first sewing machine making cloth face masks for anyone who asked--for free. Not a lot has changed--except that the self-professed doer of 'nothing' is now the subject of a 45-minute documentary called Oma, a love letter from grandson (turned filmmaker) to grandma and a testament to the impact Moser has had on her family and community--whether she believes it or not.
"I'm not anything special. I would've said no to making the film if it was anyone but my grandson asking. But how could I say no to Griffin?" Moser said from her acreage near Sherwood Park, where she continues to sew masks several hours a day, even though she says she despises sewing. "I've made 3,167 masks as of today. I figured out it cost $1.94 to mail two, three or four masks but I've never had to pay for anything except a bit of elastic. Friends and family have generously donated stamps and material all along."
It's Moser's request that anyone receiving a mask donate to the charity of their choice or a small, local theatre company that gave Griffin Cork the idea to make a documentary about his grandmother. With fellow U of A Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) grad Melanie Bahniuk, actor Cork got funding from the TELUS STORYHIVE's Local Heroes Documentary Grant to put the spotlight on 'Gamz' (as Cork's entire BFA class called Moser when they'd come over for an end-of-year chili, hot dog roast and campfire party).
"Her level of arts patronage is something in itself--she's seen 973 theatre productions over the last decade, before the pandemic shut things down--but even though she actively avoids celebrations of her work and even basic recognition, what she's doing helps highlight the importance of the arts and culture sector in a city. My grandmother has heard from people who've donated a hundred dollars each to the Varscona or Shadow Theatre in town," Cork said. "The main goal of doing this film is to show her, "look, what you've done matters".
"Hugging our kids keeps us alive, and so does theatre; I fell in love with it years ago," said Moser, whose own children and grandchildren work in Alberta's performing arts, literary and construction sectors. For the film, producer Bahniuk included a surprise backstage tour and moment in the spotlight at Festival Place for Moser.
"It was special to touch on Sandy's love for theatre, but we also included a walk around her nursing school at the U of A and her living through the Polio outbreak of the 50s. And we got comments from those she's helped with masks--from the arts world and beyond," Bahniuk said, pointing to the many masks donated to homeless people through the Boys & Girls Clubs of Calgary. "Sandy doesn't know who we interviewed (Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi for one) and she won't see the film until we're finished."
At the end of the several-day shoot at her home this spring, (with all COVID-19 safety protocols in place), Moser was surprised when a make-up artist arrived to fulfill her dream of 'being a dead body on a t.v. show. I'd be a really good dead body," as she told Cork. While Bahniuk and Cork acted out a scene as detectives, Moser lay on the porch under a sheet, doing her best imitation of a corpse.
"What a hoot, Moser said. "I guess I can admit the whole thing was lots of fun, having the kids over here. It's been a lonely year. And now that I've had my two shots, being able to hug my grandson again after so long was the best."
Moser's reluctant moment in the spotlight may not be over quite yet. Cork and Bahniuk said they hope to submit the documentary to film festivals in months ahead. OMA will also be distributed for free on TELUS Optik TV and online next year. More information on the film is at storyhive.com.