Woodlands Retirement Community hosted a special screening of the nationally recognized documentary “Below Surface” followed by a panel discussion on the transformative power of community in the aging process on Friday, April 12.

“Below Surface” delves into the remarkable story of a YMCA aquafit class, showcasing the profound impact of community, exercise, and kindness on individuals facing grief, stress, and physical illness. The documentary has garnered widespread acclaim, having been featured at 18 film festivals nationwide and showcased at leading universities such as Columbia and Yale. It is currently airing on Lifetime TV.

Following the screening, Woodlands hosted a panel discussion with executive producer Dr. Mary Lake Polan and Huntington-based ophthalmologist Dr. Stephanie Skolik. The panel explored the themes of the film and discussed strategies for combating loneliness and isolation in aging populations.

“This documentary started out about exercise and turned into a film about community,” said Polan about her first film. “Nobody wants to be incapacitated or homebound in the latter stages of life, and this YMCA class provided a no judgement place of community and support to help these individuals thrive. It shows that aging doesn’t have to be a terrifying, lonely experience. In 10 years, there will be more Americans over the age of 65 than under the age of 18 and we must find ways to combat the loneliness and isolation that comes with aging.”

Dr. Mark Lake Polan discusses the documentary ‘Below Surface’ with Dr. Stephanie Skolik at a panel and screening of the film on Friday, April 12 at Woodlands.

Dr. Polan was inspired to create the documentary after her own health challenges. Her personal journey led her to recognize the profound impact of the Connecticut-based YMCA aquafit class on the lives of its participants, prompting her to capture their stories on film.

Award-winning filmmaker Lukas Hauser directed the film, while Polan and her husband, Frank A. Bennack, Jr., executive vice chairman of Hearst, served as executive producers.

“The aquafit class was a great way to get in the exercise I needed while avoiding any potential falls that could further cause damage,” Polan said. “I really enjoyed the class and quickly realized the impact that this simple class had on the lives of the individuals participating. It was an extraordinary experience of the power we all have to support one another, a message that I wanted to capture on film.”

Dr. Polan specializes in reproductive endocrinology and infertility and hormonal issues related to gynecology patients and menopause.  She received her bachelor’s degree from Connecticut College, her Ph.D. in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry and M.D. from Yale University where she completed her residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Endocrine Fellowship. Dr. Polan received her MPH (Maternal and Child Health Program) from the University of California, Berkeley.

Dr. Polan chaired the Department of ObGyn at Stanford Medical School and is now a Professor of Clinical Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at Yale University School of Medicine.

Bennack is executive vice chairman of Hearst, one of the nation’s largest private companies engaged in a broad range of publishing, broadcasting, cable networking and diversified media and information activities. Bennack served as Hearst’s CEO for more than 28 years. He is a past chairman of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and New York-Presbyterian Hospital and is chairman of the Paley Center for Media. He is also a director of the Ralph Lauren Corporation and formerly served on the boards of JPMorgan Chase and Wyeth pharmaceutical company.

After successful screenings at multiple locations across the country, the documentary made its debut at Woodlands, the region’s leading senior living community and a pioneer in providing an active, independent lifestyle for seniors in West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, and beyond.

The event provided a special homecoming for Dr. Polan, who grew up in Huntington. Additionally, her mother was among the first residents to move into Woodlands when it opened in 1996.

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