What we know of the past we have learned from scholars, who in turn mostly learned from cave paintings, letters lost and found, inscriptions in family bibles discovered in the attic.

Sometimes it’s not pretty, not happy. After World War II, letters were found in crevices in hidden rooms, under floorboards in Warsaw, Berlin and Amsterdam, like Ann Frank’s.

There were notes of hope scratched on forgotten cell walls in political prisons, notes of small joys savored in dark places, before the lights went out forever for those who wrote them.

In Sky Bergman’s touching, hopeful and brightly lighted film, 40 people — men and women from 75 to 103 — tell the stories of their lives in rich, colorful voices.

These are not talking heads propped up in beds and easy chairs, mumbling memories. This is entertainment.

Writer-director Bergman follows each one through the busy, active days of their lives. Welcome Dr. Lou (“Lucky Louie”) Tedone, 92, who each day gets up at dawn, walks and does his housework, and gets into his superbly outfitted kitchen in time to make the daily supply of mozzarella cheese for his daughter’s deli.

“Happiness is a state of mind,” Lou says. “You can be happy with what you have or miserable with what you don’t have. You decide.” There’s more of that to come.

We meet Susy Eto Bauman, 95, who grew up in the American concentration camp Manzanar, one of 10 such camps in the foot of the Sierra Nevada in California’s Owens Valley, where Japanese Americans were “stored” during WWII.

Susy, whose father during that period volunteered for the famous 442nd Infantry regiment to fight for this country and died in Europe, lives a breath-taking life of daily movement and joy.

Blanche Brown, 78, who was active in the early civil rights battles, teaches dance, and moves like a 20 year old.

Santi Visalli, 81, a world famous American photographer for the New York Times, Newsweek and Paris Match, takes us into his studio to show his years of shooting combat and movie stars, and work on films like “High Voltage” and “Fathom.”

There is the amazing Rose Albano Ballestero, who at 80 is working to finish her PhD.

And of course, there is Bergman’s stunning 103-year-old grandmother still cooking lasagna in her kitchen.

“I started filming my grandmother cooking about five years ago, when she was 99 years old. I filmed her at the gym because I thought no one will believe that my grandmother is still working out. I asked her if she could give me a few words of wisdom, and that was the beginning of this adventure.”

And what an adventure it’s been. Bergman is an accomplished, award-winning photographer, and this “Lives Well Lived” her directorial debut, is attracting well deserved attention.

Sky’s work is included in permanent collections at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Brooklyn Museum, the Seattle Art Museum, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, and the Bibliothèque nationale de France (National Library of France) in Paris.

There are painters, dancers, doctors, ordinary working people, some of whom survived the Nazi’s death camps, internment in American camps, abandonment on railroad platforms, and yet lived to donate decades of service to humanity and American culture. It is a gift for all of us, including this aging reviewer.

“Lives Well Lived” is a colorful, musical parade of 40 people aged 75 to 103, with a collective life experience of 3,000 years, all sharing their secrets and offering a witty tutorial of wisdom on how to live a meaningful life. You can’t make this stuff up.

J.P. Devine, of Waterville, is a former stage and film actor.