By Denise Dunbar
The documentary “Libby” is a story of love.
Libby Wampler Custer has spent the entire 105 years of her life expressing love for others by accepting them exactly as they are and doing so with style and a smile that naturally draws people to her.
The 35-minute film that is part of the “Superwomen” showcase at the Alexandria Film Festival, which runs through Thanksgiving Day, is lovingly directed and produced by Libby’s great, great niece Caitlin McAvoy, who is exactly 80 years Libby’s junior. It includes tributes to the family matriarch from three generations of Libby’s relatives, plus several friends.
Libby was born in 1913 – the year Woodrow Wilson became president and before start of World War I or the fall of the Russian monarchy – in Leesburg, Virginia, though her family moved to Rockingham County, Virginia near the city of Harrisonburg a few months later. Libby spent the rest of her life living on an increasingly prosperous family farm.
In 1947, Libby and her husband Harry started H.L. Custer Poultry, and Libby says in the documentary that she hated working in the office and instead spent many years plucking chickens. That company later merged with Wampler Feed and Seed Company to form Wampler Foods, later known as WLR Foods, a large and prosperous poultry company.
Libby is a woman of many talents. She took up painting in middle age, and though she repeatedly says she’s “not much of an artist,” her work shows real ability albeit limited training. She was the first woman to serve on the Rockingham County draft board, a job she says she hated as some of the boys she couldn’t exempt from service were later killed while fighting.
Libby took up public speaking in her 80s and became sought out for her optimistic take on life and her admonishment that the most important thing is for people to “get up, dress up and show up.”
A funny sequence, that reveals both Libby’s humility and a bit of eccentricity, is when one of her daughters shows various dresses that Libby made herself from chicken feathers that she likely had scooped up from the yard and on which she had used clear fishing line as thread. Some of her creations actually look stylish, and some not so much.
At one point, Libby is asked if she ever cries, to which she replies that she’s incapable of shedding tears, similar to Olivia Coleman’s Queen Elizabeth in the Netflix series “The Crown.” Libby says that she feels sad inside sometimes but doesn’t show it.
Two small quibbles with the documentary are McAvoy’s decision, which was somewhat off-putting, to feature herself so much in the film about her great, great aunt. There were also a couple too many recitations of how selfless Libby is, including from Libby herself.
But on the whole, “Libby” is a celebration of an interesting woman and a life well lived. To watch “Libby” or other AFF films, go to alexfilmfest.com.