'It’s my job on this planet to make inspirational documentaries'

Aged 60-94, senior athletes teach a whippersnapper filmmaker to dream big

A reality TV editor during the day, Eric Goldfarb moonlights making ‘inspirational’ films — and experiences some of the positive benefits firsthand

A scene from 'Impossible Dreamers,' by Eric Goldfarb and Erik Howell. (screenshot)
A scene from 'Impossible Dreamers,' by Eric Goldfarb and Erik Howell. (screenshot)

LOS ANGELES — Eric Goldfarb’s day job focuses on crafting the stories of unclothed men and women charged with finding shelter, clothing, food and water.

An editor of a survivalist reality TV show, Goldfarb is surrounded in his relatively sparse office by boards with sticky notes representing the scenes that comprise an episode: A man and woman are tormented by predators, illness, hunger and the elements in dangerous, desolate locations with one personal item in their possession.

“This is where I make my money,” Goldfarb tells The Times of Israel, waving his arm at an editing bay with several monitors for Discovery Channel’s Emmy-nominated “Naked and Afraid.”

Goldfarb, a Conservative Jew in his early 40s, has been editing for over 20 years — and scored three Emmy Awards during his more than a decade with “The Amazing Race.”

“That show put me on the map as an editor on reality TV,” he says.

Eric Goldfarb, left, and Erik Howell, the filmmakers behind 'Impossible Dreamers.' (Courtesy)
Eric Goldfarb, left, and Erik Howell, the filmmakers behind ‘Impossible Dreamers.’ (Courtesy)

Goldfarb’s daughters’ handprints are taped to the wall alongside family photos and a quote from a producer. “Don’t complicate the story,” it reads. “The show is about bare asses and eating tarantulas.”

A hand drawn illustration of what could be an insect serves as a reminder for Goldfarb.

“Ticks are an adversary out there,” he says. “It’s the small ones that really get you — snakes and ticks.”

Human striving is a core theme for Goldfarb, who has scored 21 Emmy nominations. At a similar editing bay at his home, Goldfarb edited his first documentary film, “Impossible Dreamers,” which details the victories of senior athletes.

Among them are two Jewish champions: Jerusalem born and raised swimmer Daniela Barnea, a 25-year resident of Palo Alto, California, and the late surfing icon, Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz. “Impossible Dreamers” is now available on Netflix, which recently licensed the movie for 18 months.

“It’s my job on this planet to make inspirational documentaries,” says Goldfarb.

The film’s 75 minutes offer an edifying tagline: “You’re never too old to dream big.” The picture follows a handful of senior athletes ranging from ages 60-94. It was filmed over three years, capturing the high-and lowlights that “define the human spirit.”

'Impossible Dreamers' poster. (Courtesy)
‘Impossible Dreamers’ poster. (Courtesy)

As Goldfarb says, “The final results illustrate not only what it means to be a champion, but what it means to lead a life worth living.”

To create the film while working full-time in Hollywood, Goldfarb partnered with editor, director and writer Erik Howell, who also has many credits to his name.

They managed to self-finance the “stir to action” documentary, which they produced, directed and edited for under $20,000. To lower costs, they gave athletes, including Barnea, Goldfarb’s camera to take overseas and shoot their competitions.

“I was unable to go because of budgetary, work and family reasons,” he says.

The film’s origins are perhaps as unexpected as the athletes’ accomplishments. After “The Amazing Race,” Goldfarb felt compelled to tell the story of a champion. He invested a lot of time creating a screenplay about Bobby Fisher that was preempted by the release of a studio film about the legendary chess player. Still, Goldfarb wanted to make a picture about a winner. At a weekend out of town with wife Jenny, Goldfarb met Barnea — his “first athlete.”

‘She is the Michael Jordan of the pool’

“She is the Michael Jordan of the pool,” Goldfarb says. “She is a dominant athlete in swimming and whenever she moves to a new age group, she wins all of her meets. She has hundreds of medals.”

After Barnea, Goldfarb found a number of other unusual athletes. Coincidentally, he met Harry Snyder, who bench pressed 460 pounds at age 61, and once trained the reclusive Bobby Fisher. (Snyder has since died.)

Goldfarb preps the late surfing legend, Dorian 'Doc' Paskowitz for an interview. (Courtesy)
Goldfarb preps the late surfing legend, Dorian ‘Doc’ Paskowitz for an interview. (Courtesy)

Others seniors featured in the film include legendary octogenarian golfer, Gary Player.

The concept of exercise as an engine for wellness is at the core of the film and the values shared by one its most charismatic voices, Paskowitz.

Israel’s first surfer, Paskowitz traveled the globe with his wife and nine children, and authored a book about the pursuit of health.

Like the famous surfer, Barnea’s love of the water led her to exercise recreationally.

“Daniela Barnea is a swimming legend, especially because she was just a swimming mom who was encouraged by her kids to become competitive, which she did starting at 60,” Goldfarb says. “She lit up immediately, and has been dominating swim competitions around the globe for over a decade.”

Years ago, Barnea appeared nude in a Dove campaign on aging gracefully and was photographed by Annie Leibowitz.

“It was an amazing adventure, to say the least,” Barnea tells The Times of Israel.

Her passion for swimming is palpable.

“I love being surrounded by water,” she says. “Its sound while making my way through it, so clear and pure. It feels like meditation to me. Even that I have a task to accomplish, a certain distance, in certain time, it gives me the freedom to think and reflect.”

“I love the feeling of accomplishment after a hard workout. It makes my day a better day. And I sure don’t feel guilty enjoying my Haagen-Dazs ice cream or a baguette with brie,” she adds.

Barnea once achieved a world-record in the 200-meter butterfly despite a negative medical prognosis.

“She had an injury and was told by doctors she would never swim again and set out to prove them wrong,” Goldfarb says.

At 73 this month, Barnea’s performance still surprises her. When she decided to compete in the 200-meter backstroke for the first time, she broke the Pacific record.

“They refer to it as the ‘old ladies backstroke,’ yet it worked for me,” she says. “Competing is often very stressful and I often ask myself why I am doing it. I find myself doing it over again and again. There is something in the challenge I enjoy… Sometimes they say ‘over the hill.’ I say ‘over the hill and going up.’”

Her near daily workouts have also helped Barnea cope with grief last year.

“Swimming has been a real healer to me,” she says. “It helped me very much to stay energized and kept me going through the hardest time in my life, the loss of my husband.”

‘Swimming has been a real healer to me. It helped me stay energized and kept me going through the hardest time in my life’

With its message about healthy aging, the film has attracted interest from organizations catering to seniors and health and wellness centers. The filmmakers also formed a non-profit, with plans to host community screenings at gyms, senior living facilities, universities and more. Under a distribution deal with Gravitas Ventures, the film is available on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube and Video on Demand for rent or purchase.

Making the film has impacted Goldfarb’s own health habits.

“As a result of meeting all the athletes on the film, I have made several significant life changes,” says Goldfarb.

He and his wife, Jenny, who helps market “Impossible Dreamers,” are the parents of two young girls.

“My wife and I are now vegetarians, on our way toward veganism, and I now run every day during work, and on the weekends, at least a mile,” Goldfarb says. “If you want to feel inspired and feel there is hope, you will find it from the athletes in this film.”

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