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BIG ARTS film examines TV legend

By Staff | Feb 3, 2015

Fred Rogers is the focus of a Feb. 7 documentary at BIG ARTS.

A new film, directed by art therapy pioneer and islander Judy Rubin, brings Mister Rogers and his historic work to the screen. A long-time Sanibel resident, Rubin appeared as “the Art Lady” in the early years of the “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” television series, and used that personal experience to guide an examination of Fred Rogers, his creative talents, and his extraordinary ability to connect meaningfully with people of all ages.

The Florida premiere of “Lessons From the Neighborhood: What Mr. Rogers Was Really Teaching,” will be presented on Saturday, Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. at the BIG ARTS Schein Performance Hall, 900 Dunlop Road, Sanibel. Tickets are $15 (student/child admitted free of charge), and are available at the Marks Box Office, (239) 395-0900, or online at www.bigarts.org/film.

Mister Rogers conveyed complex psychological concepts through direct neighborly lessons that children and adults could embrace.

Fred McFeely Rogers (1928-2003), American cultural icon, was a composer, author, puppeteer, ordained minister, and student of child development. He created the scripts and music for every episode of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” which ran for decades on public television.

His lessons were timeless teachings developed through his study and consultation with mental health experts. The structure and tone of the show provided a friendly “neighborhood” — a “virtual holding environment” — within which even disturbing themes (like the fears stimulated by divorce or the imagined danger of angry impulses) could be safely explored.

“In 2011, I made a film about artists liberated by analytic therapy,” Rubin explained about this new film’s origins. “In organizing a symposium around that work, I immediately thought of Fred as the person who had done the best job of making analytic concepts accessible; that inspired me to make ‘Lessons.'”

Fred Rogers and Judy Rubin (as the Art Lady) interact in an early episode of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

This documentary highlights the psychological and educational lessons that Mister Rogers taught in his powerful way that was both authentic and direct. It examines his contribution to the well-being of our national psyche, how he helped generations to manage both daily challenges and life’s difficult passages, and how he was able to convey psychological concepts in ways that were both appealing and accessible to people of all ages–ideas that remain relevant more than 50 years since he first welcomed us to be his neighbors.

“For me, ‘Lessons’ is a labor of love about someone I admired for all the years we knew each other,” Rubin said. “He was one of a kind, authentic, gifted, warm, and witty. Like Mary Poppins, who sang ‘a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down,’ an eye and earful of Fred’s authenticity and songs and lyrics makes learning all of his important lessons painless. I smile every time I watch the film.”

The film will be followed by a question-and-answer session and informal reception with Rubin and special guest, Fred’s widow, Joanne Rogers. For more information, call (239) 395-0900 or email info@bigarts.org.