Known as the Julia Child of Alameda, Weezie Mott proves an interesting subject for filmmaker Liz Sher’s documentary: Weezie Mott: Still Cookin’.
With a name like Weezie, it’s hard not to stand out, and Alameda’s very own Weezie Mott is no exception. In her 97 years on the planet, she’s worked as a nursing instructor, studied the finer points of French cuisine at the Le Cordon Bleu school in London with the likes of Julia Child and Jacques Pepin, and has run her own cooking school from her home kitchen since 1977, just to reel off a few accomplishments. Now she’s stepping into the limelight as the star of the documentary Weezie Mott: Still Cookin’. While the film focuses on Weezie Mott’s career as a culinary coach, it also takes a deep dive into her unique life — one that’s taken her from an unhappy childhood in Colorado to driving a ambulance in WWII, living in Italy and Turkey as the wife a career Navy man and eventually settling at her island home. Fascinated by the Mott saga, Oakland filmmaker and visual artist Liz Sher decided it was high time to commit the cook’s inspirational story to the big screen. And while Weezie Mott’s never-quit attitude and energetic spirit have rubbed off on Sher, she freely admits that the relationship probably hasn’t improved her cooking skills just yet. But as Weezie Mott might say, there’s time. There’s always time.
How did the Weezie Mott doc come about?
When I went the first time to Trabocco Kitchen and Cocktails and met the amazing chef Giuseppe Naccarelli, he found out that I made films and said, ‘You’ve got to make a film about Weezie! But she’s in Russia.’ Next time I went, ‘You’ve got to make a film about Weezie! But she’s in New York.” This went on and on and on a couple of years. Finally I went in one night, and he had this newspaper with him and said, ‘Look, she’s in the paper.” So I took a picture of it and it had her phone number on it. I called her and she said she would love to have a film made about her. I have a friend that I’ve made a couple of films with before, Maggie Simpson Adams, who lives in Alameda. She is a wonderful filmmaker and cinematographer and I said, ‘Hey, you’ve got to do this with me because you live in Alameda, and it’ll be really great to make the film together.’ So we did.
What’s her longevity secret? Is it just no artificial sweeteners like she says in the film?
I don’t know. It could be that or the fact that she drinks cappuccino every day, at least one. I’ve been making films about older women. I’m an artist and very independent filmmaker, and most of my work has been about women, art, and healthy aging. So she fit right into the category. She’s an inspiration because she never stops traveling and expanding her horizons and looking for new restaurants and new recipes. This is what we all want, not to close down.
What do we learn from the Weezie Mott story?
First of all, she overcame a rough childhood that wasn’t pleasant. Her mother died when she was 5 and she was sent to boarding school. She didn’’t like that so much, but she just kept going and found the positive in everything. She walks on the sunny side of the street, and she is very half-glass, half-full. She actually went over to Cardinal Point this past year and had lunch. She considered it and said, ‘No, no, no, no.” She’s planning to pass at her house, and I’m sure she will achieve her goal.
What about the origin of the name Weezie? The last Weezie who made it big was on the ‘70s sitcom The Jeffersons, played by the late Isabel Sanford, although her character spelled it Weezy.
At the premiere, someone asked her that question. Her brothers said, ‘Louise is too long a name; we’ll call her Weezie.’ And it stuck. It seems perfect for her.
Is there a constant with people who are as high functioning as Weezie Mott at her age?
Oh, yes. They are role models for me and I think so many other people. They’re not celebrities in a global or even national sense necessarily, but their stories are terrific, and I think they inspire the rest of us as we age to just continue and expand and have new experiences and not feel like it’s over or it’’s getting over. I like sharing those stories with whoever wants to see the film. Resolve is important. Many people as they get older, if they’ve had to do things they did not love, find the things they do love. Some of us are lucky enough to have found those things early, and Weezie is one of those people. Actually, she also loved being a nurse. She loved all the parts of her career because she picked things that she loved. She loves cooking and sharing all of her cooking expertise with other people. So I think for anybody, finding something that you love to do that can be your work is the key to happiness. She does not exercise, as she says, except going up or down her stairs, but she gets a massage. I’m sure those are very good for her.
Weezie Mott: Still Cookin’ and Collaging Cultures, another documentary by Sher on 86-year-old Berkeley collage artist Edith Hillinger, will screen as part of the show Edith and Weezie: Age Is Just a Number, Feb. 27 at Alameda’s Rhythmix Cultural Works. For more information visit Rhythmix.org. Both films stream online at IVStudios.com.