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Netflix Docu-Series 'My Love' Shows Year In The Life Of Williston Couple

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Netflix, Courtsey
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Longtime Williston residents David and Ginger Isham represent the U.S. in the new Netflix documentary series My Love, which follows couples in six countries who have been together for 40-plus years.

Ginger and David Isham have been married for over 60 years. They have six children and at one time had about 100 dairy cows. They've lived on their family farm in Williston for decades and watched as the community has changed around them. Their partnership is now one of six highlighted in a Netflix documentary series called My Love, which follows couples in six different countries who've each been together for 40 or more years.Ginger and David represent the U.S. in the series, which is streaming now.

VPR’s Henry Epp spoke with documentary filmmaker and director Elaine McMillion Sheldon, who told their story. Their interview is below and has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Henry Epp: So first, how did you find Ginger and David?

Elaine McMillion Sheldon: Well, we were on a three-month search around the whole U.S., looking for a couple. Myself and my associate producer, Molly, called 300 people and, you know, came up with a lot of dead ends. And then internally at Boardwalk Pictures, where the series is made out of, one of the associate producers there, Julie Hook, recommended Ginger and David because her sister is their neighbor and her sister had observed them holding hands walking around the farm in Vermont and thought, “You know, they might be interesting to talk to.” And so, after this long U.S.-broad search for three months, it actually came from a recommendation internally.

And what was it about their relationship that you found exemplified the kind of stories that the series wanted to tell?

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Credit Molly Born / Courtesy
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Courtesy
The My Love film making team on location in Vermont. From right to left: Elaine McMillion Sheldon, director, Molly Born, associate producer, and Billy Wirasnik, production sound recordist.

Ginger and David, they exist in a very peaceful manner. They really listen to one another. They really accept each other as who they are. They're both very different personalities. David's quite quiet and Ginger's the outgoing one. And they don't try to change each other.

They are so warm and loving to all the people that come to the farm. They're so engaged with their community and really see a value in the land and the environment there. And so, they just had all these great connections that showed a level of a sort of an American spirit of community that we really wanted to show.

I want to talk a little bit more about some of the moments that you follow around their decisions around end of life, cremation, where their ashes will go. Did it surprise you at all that they were as open as they were about that process, both with you as the filmmakers, but also with their family members?

Yeah, because dying is a business in America in so many ways. You know, there's all these parts of death that are marketed to seniors as needing to prepare and all these things, and they just had such a grip on their mortality.

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And it wasn't an emotional thing for them. It was a thing of, "We need to do this to not leave this for our children." It was a very practical thing. And I really respected that, because even within my own family, like dealing with death and talking about death, we just want to avoid it, right? It's a painful conversation, but they really taught me that it's just a stage of life.

Your piece in the series is a lot about change in many ways. How relationships change over time, getting older changes what and how we can do things. And then in the Isham’s case, how farming has changed and the landscape around them is changing. In that aspect, did you expect going in that you would touch on some of those themes about how they've seen Vermont change over the time they've been there?

It was one of the things that really stuck out to us about Ginger and David, is that they were still living on this family farm and that their son had taken over, because so many of our farmlands, especially local farms across America, are gone. The fact that they've held on and have been able to weather the sort of different types of ways they can survive as a family farm was really interesting and really valuable, I think, for not just an American audience, but a global audience, as we become less of a rural society.

"[The idea is] by the observation of looking at people's lives for a year, we would walk away understanding something more about companionship and how to live in harmony with another person your whole life." - Elaine McMillion Sheldon

And in terms of the overall sort of arc of these stories in this series, I'm curious what sort of the thrust of this idea was? I mean, why tell stories of couples who've been together for so many decades?

It's such an anti-Netflix film series, right? It was a real risk for a platform like that to do an anthology series where essentially, you know, in a Hollywood style, you would say nothing happens. Like, nothing in particular happens necessarily.

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It's an observational portrait of a life in a year. And [the idea is] by the observation of looking at people's lives for a year, we would walk away understanding something more about companionship and how to live in harmony with another person your whole life.

Finally, this was filmed — all or most of it — in 2019, all before the pandemic. Have you been in touch with the Ishams? And do you know how David and Ginger are doing now?

Ginger and David had, you know, a hard year last year because they were so isolated from everyone. In the episode, you see, she's always at the pool swimming or out volunteering, or at church, and those things obviously have not been meeting. So, it was a tough year for a lot of us, but they weathered through it and they're excited to be vaccinated and excited to be able to get visitors at the farm now.

Ginger started this thing where she was "the panda against the pandemic," where she would put a panda head on and stand outside the ER in Burlington and other places and hold signs saying she supports the essential workers. And it was just a moment where I was like, "Oh, I wish we were still filming," because this is such a Ginger thing to do — she just wants to make people happy.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Henry Epp @TheHenryEpp.

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