Sensei Fran Kicks Ass



After traveling the world with the foreign service, 80 year old black belt Fran Vall still lives life on her own terms.


The film has been completed and is now on its festival tour. We look forward to bringing it to a larger audience, please use the contact link to receive notification when it is available for sale and rent.


Sensei Fran Kicks Ass is the story of octogenarian Fran Vall who is a master teacher Judo and Naginata (Japanese sword fighting), and still finds times for skiing and snowboard instruction.  

Guided by her Jewish faith and quest to never stop learning, Sensei Fran became proficient in all of these arts during her years in the Foreign Service, living in places such as Japan, Afghanistan and the Sudan. We spend time with Fran as she reflects on her foreign service career and shares her vivid photographs from around the world. We observe Fran teaching, training, dancing, volunteering, and giving Shiatsu massage. It is hoped that Fran's story will be the first of a series that portrays a diverse array of older women whose inspiring lives refute stereotypes regarding age and gender.

Director’s Statement:

I wanted to make a film about my 80 year old friend Fran Vall, a woman whose continual quest to learn, improve herself, and connect with other people and cultures has been so inspiring for me.

My friendship with Fran began about a decade ago when I took my young boys to a local judo club. I was struck by how often Fran was the highest ranked Sensei present at the club. My kids eventually lost interest in judo but I continued my friendship with Fran. As the years passed, I became more aware of her unusual accomplishments and life experiences. For example: besides having a 5th degree black belt in judo and a 4th degree black belt in Naginata (Japanese stick fighting), Fran is also a certified shiatsu massage practitioner. She has worked as a ski and snowboard instructor and, at a time when few women would have considered such a career, Fran had also traveled the world with the Foreign Service. This was impressive! The more I learned about this exceptional woman, the more I realized that somebody should make a film about Fran.

One day Fran happened to mention that she might have a few boxes of slides from her time in the Foreign Service in storage somewhere. So I encouraged her to find them and bring them over to my house so we could see what she had. It turned out that Fran was quite the ethnographic photographer and I realized how well her remarkable images would enhance her story. It dawned on me that I really wanted to be the ‘somebody’ she would entrust her story to.

I also wanted to make this film because current events have made me aware of the need for more positive female role models. As I reach middle age myself, I see an even greater need for media profiling of older females, ones who could be my guide stars. Fran’s courageous and positive approach to living life to its fullest is also an anecdote to the lazy cynicism we are seeing too much of these days.

Fran's story will be the first in a series of original stories that portrays a diverse array of older women whose “kickass” lives refute the stereotypes.

Poster & Production Stills: