Old Friends: Sali Ariel
Elders' Triple Economic Whammy

GAY AND GRAY: Film Festival on Aging

category_bug_gayandgray.gif [EDITORIAL NOTE: Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here.]

Last month I had the chance to see two programs that were part of the First Annual International Film Festival on Aging staged in San Francisco and Berkeley. I didn't know what to expect - I'm not much of a moviegoer, but how could I not be curious?

In the city, the festival had taken over the seventh floor (top) of a multiplex; going up all those escalators really felt like leaving everyday reality for some hidden attic. Each program was preceded by a promotional clip from one of the sponsors, an expensive looking assisted living community. I found their video cloyingly sugary. If you are strong of stomach, you can watch it here.

Obviously film festival organizers had to find sponsors somewhere. Not having had the job of raising the money, I probably shouldn't knock their accomplishments.

That said, I greatly enjoyed the Saturday program. A short celebrated 85-year-old Margaret Hagerty of Concord, North Carolina who had run her 80th marathon at the time of the filming. It's available on YouTube [4:02 minutes]:

The Canadian Film Board contributed Mabel's Saga, a cartoon about a woman at menopause deciding to make the most of being "over the hill." Not for the first time, I reflected on how creative, simply antic, Canadian filmmakers are able to be with the government support the arts enjoy up north.

The program's feature film was Hats Off, a profile of 93–year–old New York City actress Mimi Weddell. My goodness, that woman works at her craft! I guarantee if you get the chance to see this, you'll be tired just contemplating Mimi's schedule.

Filmmaker Jyll Johnstone has made available many clips from the full length movie online. Here's the trailer: [1:56 minutes]

Naturally, as TGB's gay and gray columnist, I had to see the festival's gay program. Unfortunately, I found it disappointing. The headline feature was a quite interesting documentary about a young transgendered Canadian, Madison, going through transition from male to female. The only aging element to it was that her grandmother was the person in her family most emotionally able to support her through her changes. That didn't seem to me quite enough aging content to warrant placing it in this film festival.

The other gay-themed film followed 88-year-old Lorraine Barr as she goes on a lesbian-oriented cruise. Here's the trailer for that one.

Barr, like many lesbians in her generation, lived a quiet, hidden life with a long-term female partner, never able to publicly acknowledge their sexual orientation. Late in life she dared to share her story in a letter to Newsweek:

”...Now I write this after living for 44 years with the most loved and loving, giving, understanding and delightful partner imaginable. For all our time together, we were 'in the closet.'

“For so long, if you were a known homosexual you could lose your job. We kept our relationship from our families - or at least we thought we did. After my partner died, her son told me that her family knew about us, but kept our secret because they believed our relationship was our own business.

“But our silence for all those years was also partially a self-induced caution. Looking back, I think it's possible that as the world changed, we didn't change fast enough...”

Certainly we all feel ourselves caught up in fast changes.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Brenton "Sandy" Dickson has a few things to say about Juxtaposition.]

Comments

In my mother's family, there was a woman who married in her 40's, but continued to have a close relationship with a woman who had been her "best friend" for more than 20 years. We were not surprised when her marriage dissolved 4-5 years later. It was seldom spoken of - but we all knew they were together.

The trailer for the Loraine Barr film was great. I will look for that at the Boston G&L Film Festival.

It is always nice to hear about elderly people who achieve great things. It is, however, not the normal experience as inspiring as it may be. Aging homosexuals are hard pressed about support families and often have no one to turn to without imposing on "extended" families. Agism is highly prevalent in gay circles, perhaps more than in straight circles and can be very cruel. I pretty much stay away from gay centers because of rude uninvited confrontations with sharp tongued, outspoken young people.
Did any of the conference address this?
-respectfully, charlie

Charlie: like you, I find LGBT culture very ageist -- whether worse than straight culture I don't know, though perhaps it may be because we have even less cultural models of ordinary older people somewhat like us to look to. The normative image of the "ordinary" straight person is a 20-40 something entering life as a novel adventure; the visible gay person is too often a 20-30 something, on the make.

There is some space in current gay institutions to contest this. The Creating Change conference that I wrote about here several months ago had a whole aging track. I think some of the bravest theorizing about ageism has come from lesbians, notably Barbara MacDonald whose book I explored here some months ago. But still, too often, the people talking about aging are people who are not yet old themselves. We need to make some noise in these places if we want our own voices. Yet I can't blame any of us who slough that need off -- who needs the aggravation? Yet that's how change happens.

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