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  • Writer's pictureJacob Boelman

Mary Rose Moyer

Updated: Mar 6

On Sunday, January 21st, 2024, Mary Rose Moyer passed away. She was surrounded by loved ones, just 15 days away from turning 100.

Followers of this site might know Mary as the main subject of my directorial debut, Mary Rose. Co-directed with my good friend Keenan Goodman, the 20-minute short was initially conceived as a class project. We were media arts students taking a Documentary Practices class from Professor Sean O'Brien in the English department. The goal was to break into groups of two and spend a whole semester working on a personal documentary.

This class was not part of our major, and as crazy as it might sound, though Keenan and I were two of the only students with experience holding a non-smartphone camera, we seemed to require the most growth. Sean O'Brien was just not too interested in flashy film techniques. There were no 4K cameras, sophisticated lighting setups, or shooting rigs. We were given an old 2011 Cannon EOS Rebel T3 and a Zoom Mic and told to get creative.

Our first task was to make a 2-minute piece as a test run for our larger semester-long project. I decided I would record a visit with Mary Rose Moyer. My then-neighbor and I had made a habit of chatting up a storm. I thought the class would find her personality fascinating. Sure enough, she connected with the class immediately. Her matter-of-fact attitude, intense need for independence in the face of being 91 years old and going blind, and superb storytelling skills won everyone over. The whole class advocated for Mary to be the subject of the semester project.

The collaboration between Keenan and I was crucial to the film's success. When one of us struggled, the other picked up the slack. We were both new at this filmmaking thing and our professor, Sean O'Brien, wasn't interested in many of the bells and whistles we were often encouraged to utilize in the Media Arts Department. When we spent a sleepless night working on a "heroic" edit of Mary's grandson, with an intense montage of the places he traveled, Professor O'Brien pushed back. She got us to realize we were in danger of losing focus on what attracted everyone to the piece in the first place: Mary.

I worried that few people would be interested in a story about a stubborn 91-year-old whose central conflict was her frustration with the weeds growing in the neighbor's yard. But we were lucky. We didn't have a professor interested in what other people wanted to see. Each class needed to answer one question: "What draws you to this story?"

Mary Rose's anger against weeds was fascinating to me. Her passion could come across as silly sometimes, but Keenan and I decided to take each issue she presented seriously. I wanted to make the documentary as if it were one of the countless conversations I had with Mary Rose. My role was to listen and learn. I found every story she told held a sacred truth; one few people take the time to listen to these days. We uncovered a courageous character who needed to fight through the trauma from her past and find peace that comes from her deep faith in God.

There were elements I felt were a testament to what a strong woman she was that Mary asked me to keep out of the film. Many of the themes Mary was most interested in exploring were challenging for me. She and her children spoke about how important it was for Mary to persevere through a difficult marriage. At that time, I was in the middle of supporting my mother's divorce from my father. Mary's foundation was in her Christian faith, a religion I was in the midst of abandoning. Sean O'Brien never suggested chasing our curiosity would be easy.

Mary Rose helped me discover my purpose as a filmmaker. Though she never held a camera or published a story, she taught me so much about storytelling. We would talk for hours. Even on the last day I visited, just weeks before she passed away, Mary wasn't hesitant to rail about overhearing kids cursing as they walked home from school, how clumsy one of her dates was at the local dance, or how she would sneak into school to play the piano after hours.

As Keenan and I shared Mary's story with the world, we began to understand how magical this medium of filmmaking could be. Once we got rid of the bells and whistles and let Mary speak for herself, we experienced the sacred ingredient that makes any project worth the countless hours of work to complete. We captured 20 precious minutes of Mary's truth, a truth I will hold dear for the rest of my life.

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