Grandmothers can be notoriously hard to buy presents for, and it’s all too tempting to fall back on something “safe,” like the kind of little knick knacks she likes. But if you’re willing to put forth a little more thought and effort, a wonderful gift would be to create a personal history film about her life.
Call it bias or call it an opinion based on experience, but I can speak of what a powerful emotional effect this kind of film has on a person and a family, as I have been working in this field for number of years, both as a hobby and as a small-scale business.
You can hire a videographer/filmmaker to do this kind of film, though be prepared for considerable expense (certainly three figures for the briefest little project a few minutes long, to well into five figures for a really ambitious, multi-DVD project). But if you can use a camcorder, and if you know or can teach yourself the rudiments of using video editing software, it can also be a fun do-it-yourself project.
There are two basic approaches to take. One is to make it a film about Grandma; the other is to make it a film for Grandma. (And yes, you can certainly combine the two approaches, which can be best of all.)
In the first case, you’ll be giving Grandma a chance to tell her life story. Interview her at length, perhaps over multiple session, and preserve this special life on video. I like to also go beyond a pure chronology of events-I was born here, I went to school here, my father did this for a living, we moved here when I was this age, etc.-and ask questions that elicit a subject’s accumulated life wisdom. So ask her what have been the happiest moments of her life, what have been her biggest regrets, what are the most important lessons she’s learned along the way-even ask her what conclusions she’s come to about controversial matters of religion and politics and such, and perhaps how her views have changed or evolved over time. Capture who she really is as a human being on video.
Depending on how proficient you become with the editing (or if you hire out the project), you can then scan photographs and other items (diplomas, postcards, wedding invitations, what have you) into your computer and incorporate them into the film to illustrate certain points as she speaks. You can also add music, text, and various effects.
In the end you’ll have a priceless biography of Grandma. (And the eternal gratitude of genealogy buffs in your family several generations down the road. Think what it would be like if video records like this had been possible with your great-great-great-great grandparents describing their lives in the 1700s. Ever wonder what went through their minds trying to decide whether to support the Revolution?)
For the second type of project, you would be interviewing people about Grandma and her impact on their life.
Sit each of the available family members and friends down for a half hour or an hour, and ask them all about your Grandmother. What’s their most cherished memory of her, what’s the most important thing they’ve ever learned from her, how would they describe her as a person, etc. Make sure they don’t forget to include an “I love you” on camera for her, as those clips can make a nice conclusion.
And again, depending on how fancy you want to get, you can add all kinds of photos and music and other fun extras to make it like a real film.
Surprise Grandma with something like that-a film of her family and friends telling stories and expressing their appreciation for her, that her grandchild took the time to put together for her-and what do you think her reaction’s going to be?