Interview: Director Laura Checkoway on her Bittersweet Oscar Nominee ‘Edith+Eddie’

Elder abuse, interracial romance, family drama. These are some of the fascinating topics covered by Laura Checkoway’s Oscar-nominated documentary short “Edith+Eddie“. This bittersweet true story about America’s oldest interracial newlyweds is certainly one of a kind. Recently, I spoke with Checkoway about her experiences and the insights garnered from making the film. Below is an edited version of our conversation.

Shane Slater: What made you decide to make a short documentary about this story?

Laura Checkoway: I heard about the story when a photo of the couple was circulating online. A friend texted it to me. I kept looking at the picture and wanted to know more about the couple. They had gotten married at age 95 and 96 and I wanted to know what it would be like to fall in love at that time in your life. So I connected the dots to a family friend of the couple who connected me with the family and they invited me down to go dancing with them. Within a couple days I was on my from New York to Virginia to meet them. The opening scene where you see the couple dancing was actually the first time that I met Edith and Eddie.

SS: Working with elderly persons can be challenging due to their unpredictable health and moods. What was your first impression when you met them?

LC: They were so proud to be together, so they were really open and generous with wanting to share their story. They were wonderful. It really was a joy to be in their presence. They were always holding hands and Edith was often singing to Eddie or reciting poetry. It was just beautiful to see them and how they were caring for each other.

SS: The Virginia setting and the interracial makeup of the couple immediately draws comparisons to the story of the Lovings, whose marriage led to a landmark court case that allowed Edith and Eddie to legally married all these years later. Based on your interactions with this couple and their community, did you get the sense that those racial tensions are now in the distant past?

LC: I noted the parallels between the Loving couple as well. It seemed symbolic and notable. As Eddie says in the film, it’s not the color of the skin but the heart. So the couple themselves were looking past their skin color and I thought that was special to see. Especially considering that both of them were almost 100 years old and all the history that they’ve lived through. Edith had taken Eddie into their family and into her church community and he’s been really embraced there. At the same time, even though the couple is in this bubble of love with each other, we were told that some of the other family members did have issues with the marriage.

SS: There seems to be so much more to explore in this story, such as this system that allows elderly abuse or the perspective of Eddie’s family. Did you feel the urge to investigate further, especially considering your journalist background?

LC: I did investigate further. Eddie’s previous wife had passed 10 years before and they did not have children. So as far as we knew, he didn’t have much family. And that’s why it was so beautiful to see him find a family with Edith.

I discovered that what happens with Edith’s rights being taken away and put in the hands of a court-appointed guardian is actually happening to elders all across the country. And I went on to interview advocates, activists, experts and people working towards reforming to the guardianship system. As well as families all over the country who have experienced horror stories with that system. So I realized that this is a crisis.

Then when I went to edit the film, I chose to keep it short and keep it close with the couple and their love story. I’m really glad we did that. I think there’s room for a whole other film about the larger issue. We really want this film to bring up conversations. We realized that it raises questions and that’s a strong starting point to try to start a dialogue and spread awareness about what’s going on.

SS: Were you able to interview Edith’s guardian while making the film?

LC: We weren’t given access to her and we did want to speak with her. The film is very focused on Edith and Eddie, and the only time that she met them was that night when she came, which we see in the film. That was the role that she played in their lives, so that was what was most true to the time that we spent with them. They didn’t get a chance to interview her in her office some other time, so we didn’t get that chance either.

SS: Do you currently have ideas for future films or are you waiting for inspiration like with this one?

LC: I do have a few things that I’m really excited about but it’s too early to talk about them. I just want to keep expanding myself further and pushing the limits. So I’m really excited and this just gives me so much fuel to keep going.