‘Duty Free’: Friday Night Film Features Documentary By Colgate Alum

Little Hall’s Golden Auditorium bustled with students, alumni, professors and more, all gathered to see “Duty Free,” a documentary directed by Colgate’s 2022 Entrepreneur of the Year, Sian-Pierre Regis ‘06, H’18 on Saturday, April 9. As the conversations and camera flashes subsided, the film was introduced by Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies and Women’s Studies Mary Simonson, Colgate seniors Emma Lombardo and Katie Gold, and the director of the film himself, Sian-Pierre Regis.

“It feels like I’m bringing this home,” Regis said in his return to the school, which  he credits with having made him into the activist he is today.

The documentary follows the life of Regis and his mother, Rebecca Danigelis, who immigrated to the United States from Liverpool, United Kingdom, and spent decades working in hotel housekeeping. At the age of 75, however, Danigelis was told that the workplace was being “restructured” and she no longer had a job at the hotel to which she devoted so much of her life. In the process of finding a new job, Danigelis and Regis realized just how pervasive age discrimination is in hiring practices. Even though she was more than qualified for many positions and made consistent efforts to find employment by going to hiring centers and filling out online applications, she was unable to find a new job.

According to Regis, his mother’s’ job was her life: without it, she wasn’t sure how to go on, financially or emotionally. Then, Regis realized that even though she would not be working, perhaps she could still find happiness and make life worthwhile. He asked his mother to create a bucket list of everything that she was unable to do while she was working and providing for her family. With the help of a crowdfunding campaign, Danigelis was able to have the experience of a lifetime.

From skydiving in Hawaii to reconnecting with family in England, the journey the two undertake provides the subject for an extraordinarily affecting documentary. The film depicts the immense joys and sadness that characterize life, such as the crushing disappointment of Danigelis losing her job followed by the delight of reconnecting with her daughter, Joanne, and brother, Lenny, in England.

“I feel that I endured life for a long time, now I’m enjoying it.” After one of the hardest periods of her life, Danigelis was able to live her dreams with the help of her son.

“Duty Free” is not, however, simply a feel-good story of an older woman rediscovering joy in her life. It is also a call to action against discriminatory ageist hiring practices, and a request that our society care for its elders. 

Regis and his mother even made a trip to D.C. to advocate for the Protect Older Job Applicants Bill, which protects older workers in the job application process. The bill was passed in 2021. 

“Real life can really touch people,” Regis said when asked about the benefits of the documentary format. “Films can call people to action” and spark that “human emotion that makes you want to do something.”

Senior Chase Hirt said that the film “feels really authentic and raw,” and was impressed by the editing process and the way in which Regis was able to compress four years of life into something “really cohesive.” When summarizing “Duty Free,” Regis said, “It’s a story about love first, a mom and son love story.”

Danigelis stated that the lesson of the film can be summed up by three simple words: “Family is everything.” 

Danigelis is now living with Sian-Pierre and his partner in New York City, providing the premise for Regis’s next project: an episodic series which he describes as “Will and Grace meets Modern Family meets Friends.”