By Deb Silverthorn
The colors of the rainbow combined don’t present the brightness, spirit and hue that comes from only a moment with artist Tina Epstein, the focus of Christian Ayala’s documentary debut, The Art of Adapting — Parkinson’s. The YouTube-debuted mini-documentary will screen Aug. 10-19 at the sixth annual Chain NYC Film Festival.
“From the moment we connected, I wanted Tina to have a voice. She was all in and I’m proud of what we created,” said Ayala, who filmed, edited and directed the nine-minute, 25-second piece, sharing producer credits with Giovanni Pantoja. “I went in with a broad scope, but the piece became specific. What I thought would be a four-minute spotlight became a legacy piece and more special than we could have planned.”
When Ayala, a Bishop Lynch High School and 2017 University of North Texas graduate, was looking to create a portfolio, he had no idea how it would form his future.
“I didn’t want to cross any boundaries,” said Ayala, with nearly 1,600 YouTube views, who hopes people will be inspired and educated by the film. He was excited about being accepted to next week’s Chain NYC Film Festival. “It was her suggestion to show the severity of her disease, and it’s powerful for the audience and empowering for her.”
Epstein, painting for years on canvas, wood and metal of Judaica and general themes, has seen requests for her work increase recently. For years, proceeds of her work supported organizations close to her.
French was the first language for Epstein, born in Madrid, to her Moroccan mother, Marie, and her New Yorker father, David Luzzatto. Epstein’s family, including her brother, Marc, and sister, Francoise, followed her father’s Army and Air Force Exchange Service career to Morocco, New Jersey, Japan and Hawaii before settling in Dallas.
Epstein reflects, relates and credits the goodness of her life to meeting her husband of 32 years, Dallas native Leonard Epstein, and to her children, Benjamin, Sarah and Sam. The couple, who met playing volleyball at the Jewish Community Center, are longtime members of Congregation Shearith Israel, and their children are graduates of Akiba and Yavneh academies.
“I’ve always had a joie de vivre, but truly Leonard and my children changed my world,” she said. “From Day 1, Leonard has cherished and encouraged every endeavor, and I absolutely believe I was put on this earth to have and nurture kids. I’ve been a wife and mother first, but everything I do has my whole heart.”
Epstein, who was confirmed at Temple Emanu-El and graduated from W.T. White High School and the University of Texas-Austin, found her artist niche after creating earrings when Benjamin was a toddler. After attending a ceramics class, she added that format, then painting.
A diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis gave Epstein her first challenges of severe pain in her hands. A minor tremor resulted in two years of testing, but no answers. Parkinson’s was diagnosed in 2010 after she deteriorated in four months more than most patients do in 10-15 years. Her hands distorted by dystonia, she is primarily wheelchair-bound and a deep brain stimulator now helps her control the shaking she experiences.
One of Epstein’s doctors helped pull her through, aiding her to adapt to not being able to walk, paint and do so many actions she loved. So began her new frame of mind and, expressively appropriate, the title of Ayala’s production.
While at first uncomfortable filming, Epstein believes it a privilege to tell her story and encourage people to “go for it. Christian is a gifted storyteller through his lenses and an absolutely gentle soul. He’s a gift. Period,” she said. “I recognize I’m fortunate to have a handicap that allows me to continue what I love, but it’s most important that people do not take little things for granted.”
Epstein takes no moment for granted, little or big, including those spent dancing at Sarah’s wedding to Brian Fromm or traveling coast-to-coast this spring to see Benjamin receive his Ph.D. in biological engineering, Sarah obtain her master’s in family therapy and Sam begin as a computer programmer at Cisco Systems. Consideringly brightening her days is time spent with her canine pal Acher. “Every day is a blessing.”
“I can’t walk, but I get there. I can’t hold a paintbrush, but I’m still creating valued art. In the kitchen, cooking takes longer, but it’s still delicious and makes those I’m serving happy,” said Epstein. “I’ve adapted in almost everything I do, and I’ve learned it’s important for those I love to see and learn how I deal with this insidious disease with and dignity and determination.”
That determination includes playing bridge with friends of decades, her art, cooking and enjoying getting dressed up — every day an occasion for hair, nails and wardrobe to shine. “It’s the only thing I can control, and if I’m going to go through this life, I’m gonna look damned good in it,” she says.
“Adapt — it sounds simple; it’s not,” Epstein said. “But it’s more than keeping me alive, it’s keeping me living. It’s only too late if I don’t wake up one day!”
The Art of Adapting — Parkinson’s can be viewed at bit.ly/2v6FGCL. To contact Ayala to support the documentary and his work, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 314-477-8995.