In the 1950s, an educational program named Dolls for Democracy was born. Through hand-carved wooden dolls of famous historical characters, women known as “doll ladies” would travel to local schools to teach children why racism and intolerance were wrong. Over the decades, the program has faded into obscurity, yet one woman has made it her life’s mission to reignite a nation’s passion for the program’s hopeful message. Selma Bukstein was one of the original doll ladies, and now sixty years later, at the age of ninety-one, she is the last doll lady.
The Last Doll Lady follows Selma’s efforts to revitalize the program and pass its important mission on to a new generation. There are few people you meet in this world who instantly light up a room and are a constant reminder that you should be kind to others, no matter the circumstances—Selma is one of those people. The moment I met her, I knew that I had to tell her story. We met when she was eighty-nine and she is now a spry ninety-three. I am still in awe of this woman who has dedicated her life to improving the lives of those around her.
Production of the 21-minute-long documentary took eighteen months. When making The Last Doll Lady, I didn’t know what the audience reaction would be. It’s a part of history that few people know about, but the center of the narrative is Selma’s passion for the program and her struggle to see it survive in a digital world. I am happy to say that her story is resonating with audiences all over the country as the film is being well-received at festivals. After every screening, audiences often ask how Selma and I met. I heard about her and her amazing story through my parents (thanks, Mom!). They live in the same retirement community and when my Mom heard about Selma and her dolls program, she called me immediately and said, “You have to meet this woman!” So, I gave her a call, set up an appointment, and our relationship took off from there. I feel incredibly privileged that Selma has allowed me to tell her story in such an intimate way. She welcomed a stranger like family, which is such a testament to who she truly is.
The future for The Last Doll Lady is bright. It will continue its festival run (so far it has screened at twenty-two festivals), passing on the message of the program. I would love to get the film into schools and libraries when it has completed its festival journey so that younger generations can learn about the history of the program and help maintain Selma’s legacy.
If you would like to learn more about the film or program, please stop by the film’s Facebook page (by searching for The Last Doll Lady). I hope to hear from you soon.
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