“Take care of Mom.” Those were the words of a dying father to his son. A physician in eastern New York who delivered nearly 10,000 babies, Dr. Leroy Seftel’s final wishes were that his children stay in touch with his wife of 50 years, Patricia Louise Seftel.
“Stay connected,” Josh Seftel recalls of his dad’s final wishes regarding Mom. “Keep her connected.”
Josh’s high-tech solution has resulted in a fun, rewarding and entertaining experience for family, friends and people from around the world. In his web series, “My Mom on Movies,” he interviews his 75-year-old mother Pat, a retired registered nurse and social worker, about the latest in entertainment.
Thousands of people have viewed and commented on the webisodes. Pat isn’t getting recognized on the streets yet but her son would like to see that change.
“I would get a big kick out of it if she became a celebrity from this and I bet she would, too,” Josh says.
Beyond offering a refreshing perspective on current events - Pat’s remarks teem with candor, wisdom and levity - the videos show a winning, loving connection between two very different worlds: Josh at his Manhattan-based production company and his mother seated at the kitchen table of her first-floor condominium in the Palmer Ranch community of Sarasota.
“I believe that it is that odd but endearing connection that has caused the series to resonate with friends and fans,” Josh says. “It has brought us closer together. I recommend that everyone do a web series with their mother.”
Of course, most of us can’t produce episodes as deftly edited as the ones Josh creates for “My Mom on Movies.”
His filmmaking accolades include receiving an Emmy nomination for directing the premiere season of Bravo’s groundbreaking series “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” His feature film directorial debut is the 2008 political satire “War Inc.,” which stars John Cusack, Ben Kingsley, Joan Cusack and Marisa Tomei.
Josh’s work also has appeared on the Peabody Award-winning public radio program “This American Life” and on the Showtime series of the same name.
“He was supposed to be a doctor,” Pat says. “My husband was a physician and Josh was always quite interested in medicine and excelled in the sciences, but when he went away to school he took college courses for pre-med. But his last year he did a film course and told us that’s what he wanted to do. We thought he was making such a terrible mistake. Well, he was right and we were wrong. What a wonderful, marvelous career he has had.”
Josh spent a weekend in Sarasota teaching his mother, a computer neophyte, how to operate an iPad. Now, she’s an avid user of email who loves the photo messaging application Snapchat and the social word game Words with Friends.
She also loves “going out online and learning about things."
“It just opened up a whole new world to me,” Pat says of her iPad. “To be honest, when the kids gave me the iPad, I was afraid of it. I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it or I would break it. I thought they were wasting their money, but they knew much better. Now, I don’t know what I would do without it.”
Once Mom befriended her iPad, Josh persuaded her to use its video chat feature FaceTime. The filmmaker soon realized that there was something special about these interactions between mom and son. He started filming the conversations so that others could witness the humorous and poignant cross-generational experience.
“I didn’t understand what it was all about,” Pat says. “But I thought it could be fun and something we could do together as a family.”
Josh has interviewed Pat for 10 episodes of “My Mom on Movies.” The videos run between 2 and 3 minutes and are interspersed with news and film clips related to the topics of discussion. The actual conversations typically run 5-10 minutes. “My Mom on Movies” requires a significant amount of skilled labor and doesn’t exactly turn a profit.
“No, the opposite,” Josh says with a laugh. “It’s just fun. We just squeeze it in when we have down time in between other projects. It’s more like a hobby.”
Josh uses the latest pop culture events as a springboard to stray into unexpected directions. They have covered S&M in “50 Shades of Grey” (Mom prefers a ‘nice hug’), “Girls” creator and star Lena Dunham’s tattoos (Mom is concerned about her Jewish burial prospects) and Denzel Washington’s fading looks (the episode prompted Mom to issue an apology to Washington in a separate video).
“Sometimes I laugh out loud at what I said,” Pat says. “I get a little self-conscious - oh, geez, I should have gone to the beauty parlor or did something with my hair - but all in all, I just think it’s fun and I enjoy doing them.”
She added, “I look forward to that little sound on the iPad when he’s calling to do one.”
When her husband died in the summer of 2009, the Seftels had recently become residents of Sarasota. In the years that followed, she has maintained strong relationships with her friends and a social schedule that would make most people envious. Pat is a regular at Burns Court Cinemas, takes in the Sarasota Opera and dines at Darwin’s on 4th. But she enjoys nothing more than to spend time with her family.
“To have three wonderful, healthy, active, loving children is the greatest gift that anyone could have,” Pat says when asked about the perfect present for Mother's Day. “And I have it.”
Her children visit as often as possible, but all three live many miles away. Oldest daughter Laura Seftel works as an art therapist in Massachusetts. Suzanne Seftel Glassman, a former lawyer turned portrait photographer, lives in Maryland. There are grandchildren, too. Pat uses her iPad to keep in touch with them all.
“It has made all our relationships with her that much closer,” Josh says.