The Nona, directed by Stacey Stone, is an endearing and life-giving documentary that covers the coincidence, determination and infectious creativity of human existence, and later touches on the impact of the Covid pandemic on the older generation. The film is essentially a character study of Edith Fields, a 93-year-old actress, mother and wife who has appeared in over 120 film and television roles in a career spanning multiple decades. The film combines elements of archive history, providing background on Fields’ upbringing, family-life and marriage, with footage of her acting work and present-day interviews. The Nona is a heartfelt and empathetic documentary that inspires in its endless passion: for acting. . . and for life itself.
The Nona moves as Edith Fields does. She is a firecracker, active and whimsical in nature, whose memories and stories drive the pace of the film. She begins by saying that, now in her nineties, she has only just realized that she has a gift for sound and rhythm. Throughout the film, Fields dances to the beat of her own drum. She recalls her life in New York, singing with her sister, visiting the vaudevilles, chance encounters with stage actors and meeting her husband. The background information provided, whether intentional or not, takes on the slightly scattered organization of the central figure. We are taken through family photos, newspaper clippings, cherished reviews and video footage. The film captures some of the excitement of the expanding theater, film and television industries: the performances that would turn people into stars, and how those stars would transcend the street corner or the department store where you happen to meet them.
A particularly interesting dimension of the documentary is Fields’ first-hand experience of dreaming to be an actress in the 1940s and 1950s and the candidness with which she shares this experience. She speaks of a freight train that used to pass by her house at night; how she would listen to the sound of the train, wishing she could go with it to see what the world was like. At the same time, she mentions her mother’s lack of encouragement—the implausibility of being a young woman and expecting to turn acting into a career. The film provides an interesting and powerful insight into the journey of a budding actress during this time period, the naïve dedication and, if we’re being honest, pure luck and fortune. Part of the beauty of the film is the authentic depiction of the young Fields, so beholden to an art form, in her instance acting, that no other life options seemed possible. The Nona is partly a love letter to performance and storytelling.
In its overarching positivity, reflective of Fields’ personality, the film doesn’t overlook the aspects of life that are troubling and difficult. Though not dwelling extensively on it, the film addresses Fields’ husband and his development of Alzheimer’s in later life before his death. The film captures intimate moments in the cemetery where he is buried, demonstrating the dedication Fields still has to her husband, how she chooses to remember him, and her peace about her own death and the life she has lived up until this point. A drastic shift in circumstances in the later part of the documentary, as the Covid pandemic hits, is made even more startling for following Fields through the change. Previously active and agile, brisk and bustling, she is laughterless: leaning over her camera, hands to head and tissue in hand. The best evidence that the film effectively enamors you with Fields is that this section is as devastating as it sounds.
The Nona is a testament to a brilliantly unique person with a miraculously intrepid spirit. It is a genuine pleasure to listen to and spend time with someone who has lived through the development of the film and television industry as we know it today. The hilarious bit-part roles that Fields played in productions ranging from Seinfeld to a Michael Jordan commercial, alongside more substantial stage roles, reveals much of what it takes to have creative longevity and unparalleled fun. The Nona is playful and personal in abundance.