ON THE RADAR: OLDER
A cinematic celebration of older persons.
Inspired by the International Day of Older Persons, we’ve been celebrating cinematic stories from senior citizens throughout the month of October.
Having put together a programme of short films featuring unique and inspiring older characters as part of a collaboration with the British Council, we decided to talk to the six filmmakers about their experiences of working with more senior subjects. The featured films are: Born to be Mild by Andy Oxley, Aunty Ganga by Asmita Shrish, People of The Peninsula by Poppy Buckley, Head over Heels by Timothy Reckart, Directed by Tweedie by Duncan Cowles and An All Encompassing Light by Chloe White. We asked the filmmakers what drew them to working with older characters and if ‘older’ really is wiser…
When you decided on who your film would focus on, what were you setting out to portray?
Chloe White: Through An All Encompassing Light I wanted to portray a brave man who, many years later, was still contemplating and struggling with his past. I wanted to show how, despite the many years that had passed and the many experiences he has had, the bombing of Hiroshima was an incident so horrific that every minute is still marked in Lee’s memory.
Andy Oxley: With Born to be Mild I was looking to find men who were open and unashamedly enthusiastic about their pastime. There was always going to be a knowing, wry humour about it, but very much in a celebratory way. I feel that people such as the ones in the film are unsung heroes, and that in this celebrity-obsessed, fast-paced modern world, people like this go unheralded because what they do isn’t deemed exciting or interesting. So the film’s intention is to say that there’s nothing wrong with these marginal, old-fashioned pastimes – the idea was to show that there are certain hobbies which may appear boring on the surface, but once you get into them they’re actually quite interesting. To me, the ‘dull men’ are actually quite rock ‘n roll, because they unashamedly do what they like doing and don’t care what anyone thinks!
"...they unashamedly do what they like doing and don’t care what anyone thinks!"
Poppy Buckley: People of the Peninsula shows an insight into the lives at the Wirral Multicultural Organisation, focusing on the Chinese culture in particular. I made the film as I wanted to explore different cultures and experiences, how people from other countries have adapted to British society, and how the WMO helps them.
Timothy Reckart: When I did my first Q&A for Head Over Heels, a lot of people in the audience were surprised to find out that I was an unmarried 25-year-old, rather than a middle-aged guy on his third marriage! My connection to the characters in Head Over Heels was really by way of my relationship with my girlfriend: we were in love, but were on opposite sides of the political and religious spectrum.
Asmita Shrish: Aunty Ganga was the mediator between the old Nepalese community and myself because I was completely new to the older Nepalese social group. At 67 (now 69) she is full of energy and trying out new things like studying English, taking care of her husband and volunteering to name a few. It just felt right to talk to her and as time passed I realised that it was not the community’s story I was looking to, it was her story.
Duncan Cowles: My Granddad (Tweedie) and I care about each other a huge amount, however I feel like we don’t understand a whole lot about what we each do. I hoped that by getting my Granddad to engage with making a film I could give him an insight into my life as a filmmaker, and he could maybe see things from my point of view. Of course on a personal level I also wanted to simply film my Granddad, so that I would have a record of him and his character for the future. This has been a key motivation in almost all my work of the past three years or so. I did also want to push the film a bit further than your usual character portrait and had the desire to make some kind of self aware comment on the process of filmmaking and how daft it can be at times.
What did you learn or discover from the older people or characters as you worked with them?
DC: It struck me when filming just how far someone is willing to go for another family member. My Granddad could have point blank refused to be filmed, or not engaged in the slightest bit with what I wanted to do, but he did what he could, because he knew that the film was in some way going to benefit me. When I thought about it and began to realise this, I was extremely touched and really looked at our relationship in a different way. It’s incredible how far some Grandparents and indeed family will go in aid of another family member.
AS: Definitely they were inspiring. Listening to their past made me feel that I haven’t experienced life at all. Completely disconnected from modern technologies they are connected to each other. They have built a small Nepal out of the small town between themselves and Auntie Ganga helped me immerse in that community. We should learn from their naïve love stories, hate stories and most of all their story of togetherness.
CW: I was surprised, often during the filmed interviews, there were many things about Lee that he hadn’t told me until then, like how his sister had never been found, how he hadn’t told his family about his experiences until very recently – Also, what a beautiful storyteller he was, what an energetic and healthy man he was and how upbeat he was.
AO: It was genuinely interesting and educational hearing about the Dull Mens’ chosen specialist subjects. I have started to notice my surroundings a lot more, and can’t help but admire a picturesque post box, a ‘Titchmarsh’ roundabout, or a stray brick.
TR: Head Over Heels was a way to explore what our relationships’ future might look like: a surrealistic view of the issues that divide people and the sacrifice it takes to bridge that gap. And just like in the short, the true story had a happy ending: that girlfriend and I just celebrated our first wedding anniversary!
You’ve made an amazing contribution to building a wider narrative for older persons on screen. Is there a need for further exposure for older people and their stories?
AO: I feel there’s an enormous amount of stories/experiences/knowledge that younger people in general are missing out on simply because of this perceived generation gap. Generally speaking, I feel society tends to forget about people once they get older. There’s a great organisation called North London Cares which puts younger volunteers and older people together, sometimes to help with a specific task, sometimes just to hang out, and I think this is exactly what needs to happen on a wider scale because we can all learn from each other. There needs to be more exposure of older people on screen simply so that we don’t forget they’re there. Documentary in particular is a great way of sharing the knowledge and stories of all kinds of people.
DC: Well, we’re an ageing population. Life expectancy is on the rise, and before we know it, grabbing a coffee on a Monday morning at your local art gallery is going to become a near impossible task. So aye, I think we should be telling more stories about the elderly and trying to get them to engage with it and take on an active role. I heard Anne Gallacher, director of Luminate Festival speaking on the TV stating that statistically as we get older and older, we get less and less interested in art. This is certainly the case for my own Granddad, (although it’s hard to believe he was ever interested in anything past what time we were going for dinner) and I think we have a certain duty as filmmakers, to not ignore the elderly, not to give up on them, and to really respect what they have to offer when portraying them or filming them. We should also be trying to actively engage with them through art and exchanging perspectives with them instead of defaulting to our own point of view, because before we know it, we’ll be the ones wondering what time dinner is.
"We have a certain duty as filmmakers, to not ignore the elderly, not to give up on them, and to really respect what they have to offer... "
AS: For me the challenge is to at least be with them and listen to their past and obviously document them to show the awesomeness of older people to self-proclaimed, young boring us. As a short film maker, I am working further on the retired Gurkha (Soldiers) community in England, aged 65 and over, with language as a common string to join them together. I think it’s the least I can do to tell their story to wider audience.
CW: Older people have experience, they’re a window on to the past, they have wisdom, but we often forget about them, and, especially with the case of older women, we look through them. They become invisible to a lot of people. I loved how, in Japan, older people were so loved and respected within the family unit. I don’t necessarily think they should rule over the family, but they should be listened to and spoken to. Short films have a lot more scope for experimentation than longer films and therefore are more able to touch on themes and ideas that aren’t popular or mainstream. A lot of elderly people want to share their stories are so are excellent material for short films! For first time filmmakers, why not turn your camera on your own grandma and I’m sure they’ll have an interesting story to tell!