The microphone turns on and the crowd bursts into applause.
The cheers are partially due to the feeling of shared triumph that arises whenever an uncooperative gadget starts working but mostly, the applause is about anticipation. After nearly three years, the Mary Anne Cooper documentary is about to premiere.
It’s Saturday afternoon at Inlet Theatre in Port Moody and the movie is about to start.
After slipping past the shred-a-thon in the parking lot and having their vaccine cards scanned, the theatregoers turn to a tong-wielding volunteer who dishes out red masks like a caterer apportioning cuts of roast beef. Red is Cooper’s colour.
Inside the theatre there’s a stir as Mary Anne Cooper, 106 years old and about to become a movie star, takes her seat.
Sporting a wide-brimmed, cherry-coloured hat and New Balance sneakers, Cooper sits down in the front row and an informal queue begins.
One by one, old friends, acquaintances and admirers stoop in front of her bearing gifts and news, sharing memories and hoping to be remembered. It’s not a line, but as soon as one theatregoer says goodbye and takes their seat another ambles over to take her place. They all seem to leave her presence smiling.
Producer and streamkeeper Ruth Foster stands before the now-working microphone. Like the high school teacher she once was, Foster waits the crowd to quiet down. We do.
The documentary we’re about to see is “the culmination of a dream,” Foster says.
Then, before offering her gratitude to the contributors and gofundme producers in the crowd, Foster turns to Cooper.
“I cannot thank you enough for the trust that you placed in us.”
The lights dim and the movie starts.
Early in The Spirit of Port Moody, we see Cooper baking bread with Coun. Zoe Royer.
They talk about health and history and current events. Royer, who seems delighted to be rolling dough next to Cooper, asks what ingredients you need for a long life.
Judging from the documentary, two of the keys to longevity are an intense curiosity and a strong sense of purpose.
In an early interview Cooper recalls gathering at church and being told of a letter from Imperial Oil advising everyone to move from the townsite.
A woman asked a question: “Are we going to take this sitting down?”
Recounting the story, Cooper laughs. She laughs a lot. “I’ll take this on,” she remembers saying.
Outraged at what she views as the neglect of the Ioco townsite, Cooper offers a phrase that seems to sum up at least part of her character.
“We haven’t stopped yet,” she says. “We have work to do.”
In addition to Cooper’s personal story, the 64-minute movie charts Port Moody’s evolution from forestry town to City of the Arts. We get a city history from Port Moody Station Museum executive director Jim Millar. Offering a broader perspective of the area’s pre-colonial history is Indigenous artist and local politician Tasha Faye Evans.
Through it all we spend time with Cooper. We witness Cooper’s love of science, her quiet faith, her suspicion of luxury highrises and her love of parks.
“What we need is other people to understand this is more than real estate,” she notes.
We look in on her many appearances at Port Moody council meetings. (After the screening, Coun. Hunter Madsen explains that, while he can’t claim to know Cooper well, “I’ve been scolded by her a number of times. Always polite,” he adds.)
We also see Cooper in the community, moving slowly but always moving, always toward the next project, the next friend.
“Greetings and salutations! How are you this fine day?” she asks.
She speaks candidly about her efforts– initially spurned – to finish her education.
“There was just too much boring work raising babies,” she says.
However, marriage and motherhood essentially rendered her ineligible at the time. “For three solid days I cried my eyes out.”
Later in the film we watch Cooper tour Mossom Creek Hatchery and discover that she eventually went back to school and earned a PhD in environmental education and that it’s actually “Dr. Mary Anne Cooper.”
And while she was reluctant to marry, Cooper shares deep affection for her late husband.
“It was the beginning of the most wonderful life I could’ve imagined because we were both of the same adventuresome spirit. He was always willing to do anything.”
Perhaps the most stirring sequence in the film is when we watch Cooper chat with elementary school children.
“Can everybody smile at me?” Cooper asks.
“When did you go in kindergarten?” a boy asks her.
“Well, that was . . . a 100 years ago,” she replies.
What follows is a brief, lovely moment. Director Eva Wunderman captures the children’s faces as eyes widen and jaws slacken at the thought of a century.
Cooper talks to the children about the forest.
“The forest is a community,” she tells them.
They talk about animals and food and how the forest is their home.
“Who’s going to take care of them?” Cooper asks the class.
“Us,” a child tells her.
Cooper looks perfectly pleased.
Later in the film, Cooper shares a root beer float with her daughter and toasts to “more adventures.”
“I am always looking for the little miracles. Not the big things,” she says. “The nice happy little things . . . are the most wonderful part of life.”