The director of the documentary short 'Edith+Eddie' tells how one picture led to an Oscar nomination

Director Laura Checkoway talks about receiving her first Oscar nomination.

February 27, 2018, 9:48 AM

— -- When Laura Checkoway caught a bus down to Virginia from New York City to check out the story of Edith Hill and Eddie Harrison, whose picture was being circulated online as "America's oldest interracial couple," she had no idea it would lead her on the road to her first Oscar nomination.

A friend had texted Checkoway, a journalist-turned-filmmaker, a picture of the couple who married in 2014 at ages 96 and 95.

"I just kept looking into the picture and looking into their eyes and thinking what it would be like to fall in love at that time in their lives," she told ABC News.

Edith and Eddie are seen holding hands throughout the film, "Edith+Eddie."
Kartemquin Films

A couple days later, Checkoway was on a bus to meet them. She thought she might film them for one weekend of dancing.

"It started as a look at love," she said. "I thought it would be a sweet, tender short portrait, and right away I realized that there was more to the story and that they were fighting to stay together. Little did we know how dramatically things would unfold."

Checkoway ended up shooting enough for a feature but in the edit realized she had a more compelling story as a 29-minute film. The result is the Oscar-nominated documentary "Edith+Eddie," a poignant look at elder abuse.

The movie, "Edith+Eddie" starts as a love story but takes a darker turn.
Kartemquin Films

From their touching love story, Checkoway quickly segues to their dramatic fight to remain together after Hill's daughters, Rebecca and Patricia, battle over her estate and her care when she is diagnosed with mild dementia.

That's when the film takes a dark turn.

Rebecca, who is interviewed in the film, fights to keep Hill and Harrison together in Hill's home. Patricia, who lives in Florida, pursues the sale of the home and sending Hill to a nursing home. When the two sisters are unable to reach an agreement, a legal guardian is appointed to Hill's case and, without ever visiting her, decides that she should go live with Patricia until a bed in a nursing home can be found for her.

Checkoway took a cinema verite approach to the filming, capturing events as they unfolded. "It was really tough when it takes such a sad and unexpected turn," she said.

Director Laura Checkoway is up for her first Oscar nomination from the film, "Edith+Eddie."
Kartemquin Films

Checkoway was grateful for her journalistic training, which allowed her to be a fly on the wall. "At the same time my heart was shredded," she said.

Audiences came away with a similar feeling after watching the film, which has won numerous film festival awards and the International Documentary Association (IDA) award for best short.

And then came the Oscar nomination.

"I am beyond words with that one," Checkoway said. "It is incredible and I’ve never used the word incredible so many times in my life, because this film was made independently. Receiving this honor and this level of recognition, it just means that much more."

She added, "We really hope it will shed light on dignity for elders and wake up people."

Cher is one of the executive producers of "Edith+Eddie," seen with director Laura Checkoway.
Kartemquin Films

After watching the film, Cher, who had first seen a news report on the couple and reached out to help them, came on board as an executive producer.

"These are the cutest people I have ever seen and they were truly in love," the superstar told The Hollywood Reporter in September. "What happened to them is horrible -- it's elder abuse and it's happening all over. We're hopeful this film can make a difference."

Checkoway, too, hopes to make a difference.

"When I was on the bus to Virginia, the Academy Awards was not in my field of vision," she said. "Through this experience, I realized that I have had a very deep longing in me my entire life. That longing is to be of the most use I can while I'm here. In that sense, this just feels like it makes sense."

Related Topics