Kalin’s Chronicles: Filmmaker Accomplishes Dream in Her 40s

Daisy Bates Poster Women at FortySharon La Cruise is one of my dear friends and former CNN colleagues. After working at CNN, the 1996 Summer Olympics, and Coca-Cola, she left Atlanta for Boston and New York to pursue her dream of becoming a documentary filmmaker.

She has worked on several award-winning films, including:  “Shut Up and Sing” about The Dixie Chicks, and “This Far by Faith” about religion in the African American community.

But at age 49, Sharon reached her goal of writing, producing and directing her own film.  “Daisy Bates:  First Lady of Little Rock” is the product of seven years of hard work.  The film profiles the life of an African American woman who, while in her 40s, fought to integrate Little Rock High School in Arkansas in 1957.

I have the pleasure of traveling as part of Sharon’s “2013 Southern Circuit Tour” to screen the film, and decided to interview her about accomplishing her dream in her 40s.

On Turning 40:

I had reached a point my life where I wanted to live life on my terms without all the BS. I was finally a grown up! And I was on the way to becoming who I wanted to be—a documentary filmmaker.

On why she chose Daisy Bates as the subject of her film:

In 1997, I was 35 years old living in Atlanta. I attended a photo exhibit that would change my life. “I Dream a World” by photographer Brian Lanker included a companion guide of 75 of the most incredible African American women to ever live, including Daisy Bates. I was shocked that I had never learned about her in school.  I started to research more about her and decided to make the film.

On finishing the film after seven years of work:

Producing “Daisy Bates: First Lady of Little Rock” was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. This profession is not for the weak of heart. It takes lots of time researching, writing, editing and fundraising for money.  In the film world, if you get funding from government entities it is mandatory that your film broadcast on PBS or you have to return those funds.  But there are no guarantees that PBS will broadcast your film. I was fortunate to be picked up by “Independent Lens,” which was the culmination of my dreams as a filmmaker. When the film aired on PBS on February 2, 2012–I was 49 years old.

On traveling the country to show the film:

The film has been screened everywhere from Hawaii to New York. Sitting through a screening with an audience has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. I love connecting with new people, and it has helped to reaffirm why I made the film in the first place.

On being productive in your 40s:

Daisy Bates helped to shake the foundation of America in her 40s.  I spent most of my 40s working on the film about her life.  It was both wonderful and stressful.  But I am really proud of all the things I was able to accomplish during that decade of my life.

Advice for women turning 40:

Don’t live your life in fear–take chances–and don’t settle for less than an extraordinary life.  While I was working on the film I had signs up all over my office to encourage me — my favorite was from the film “Million Dollar Baby.” It said “Winners win because they dare to do what losers won’t.”

I hope Sharon’s experiences inspired you.  Your 40s is the time to make no apologies for what you want in life.  So get started now, and never give up on your dreams!  For more information on Sharon and Daisy Bates, visit http://daisybatesfilm.com/.


Editor’s Update: I’ve added this clip from the documentary on PBS’ Independent Lens website.

Watch A Feminist Before the Term Was Invented on PBS. See more from Independent Lens.


 Kalin Thomas is Women at Forty’s Travel & Leisure Editor. She is also Senior Writer/Photographer for SoulOfAmerica. Before starting her own multimedia company, Kalin spent 17 years at CNN where she won several awards for her work as producer/correspondent for CNN’s weekly travel program, CNN TravelNow. She is currently writing a book about her travels. For more information on Kalin, visit www.seetheworldproductions.com.