Never Too Old to Learn

By Margot Venema

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“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” –Oliver Wendell Holmes

“Ah, you so old,” said the little Chinese lady to Ken Matheson when he told her that this was his first day of university. She was dropping off her 20-year-old son for school and asked him to take their photo.

At age 57, Ken decided to go back to school to study Documentary Filmmaking at Capilano University – a big step, and a particularly courageous one, considering his age and the fact that he had barely finished high school.

“I was completely overwhelmed that first day back in school after so many years,” he recalls. “I stood out and felt totally out of place in the sea of children.”

That feeling, however, did not prevent him from trying because “only fear and common sense hold you back” and Ken tends to run towards his fear.

A few months into the program now, he is happy the feelings of anxiety have subsided. He finds his younger peers very accepting. The whole experience has allowed him to see things through different – younger – eyes. A whole new world has opened up he did not know existed. And most importantly, it exercises his brain.

The biggest challenges about going back to school are figuring out how to study again, trying to fit in, and learning the technology.

“There has been an enormous change in how schooling is done as opposed to 40 years ago,” says Ken. “Everything is pretty much computerized now and it has been a huge learning curve getting the movie programming down.”

Though the experience has been a big adjustment, it’s also a rewarding one because, in documentary filmmaking, Ken has found his passion. He feels that everything he did in his life ultimately prepared him to be a documentary filmmaker.

When he was young, he dreamed of being a veterinarian, but after high school, he chose military college instead. He ended up joining the RCMP where he saw life at its best and worst. After 20 years in the Force, he retired to become an outdoor adventure guide, which gave him the opportunity to travel the world, meet people from all walks of life, and gather stories.

Documentary filmmaking allows Ken to combine his passions for storytelling, the outdoors, people, and experiencing new things, into one.

“I love the power of storytelling and I want to learn what motivates people,” he says. “I always wonder about the human spirit and what can be accomplished.”
It also gives him the chance to meet people and make deep personal connections. When they share their most intimate thoughts and emotions, they become part of his family.

When generating story ideas, he always asks two questions: “What is the story?” and “Where is the story?” He wants to tell human-interest stories; the kinds of tales people connect with. Stories are all round us and there are so many out there that need to be told, it is overwhelming. At 3 a.m. when - in general - the ideas start to flow, he dreams of making documentaries about famous mountaineers, the RCMP, the environment, and people in the North Thompson, to name a few.

He draws inspiration from Facing Ali, the best documentary he knows. He loves the way it was shot. The director Pete McCormack, whom Ken had the pleasure of meeting in school, never interviewed Muhammad Ali. He only spoke to the people who fought Ali, so the audience learns about the boxer through his opponents. Yet, at the same time, you learn about these fighters themselves. The strength of the story lies in its ability to show these fighters as real people.

Ken’s early role model and motivator was his dad. “He used to be a documentary filmmaker but did not know it,” he says. His dad would go out on these great adventures and take photos, which he would then put in a book along with short stories. Ken is convinced his dad would have been proud of him and that he would have loved his new profession. He believes he would have done the program himself, if he had had the chance.

Ken’s biggest supporter is his wife. Three years ago, in her forties, she decided to go back to school to finish her Bachelor of Arts degree. “She showed me that I could go to university to realize my dreams at any point in my life and that it was not restricted to a young age,” he says.

Apart from long stretches of time away from home, the financial challenges, and the adjustments to learning again, it has been a rewarding journey Ken would not have missed for anything. He hopes to inspire people regardless of their age, to follow their passion and pursue education if needed. After all, “you are never too old to learn.”



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