What great fun I had curating a Festival of Short Films for the Gerontological Society of America, and coordinating the screening of a feature length film as well. Over 200 people saw the shorts on Saturday night, and another full house gathered Sunday night for the feature-length film.
The feature-length film was Andrew Jenks, Room 335. Essentially, a truly good-hearted 19-year-old “kid” decides he wants to learn what it’s like to live in Assisted Living. Over the course of 5 weeks, he learns about the view of life from 96 – filled with love, hope, fear, anger, and some downright bawdy humor.
We talk a good game about the importance of inter-generational friendships…Andrew Jenks, Room 335 takes it to a whole new level. There are truly difficult moments here – especially when the lights go out in a storm and Andrew and his friends find themselves basically alone, trying to help some of the 300 residents. And when Andrew finds himself praying with a dying friend. And there are moments of pure joy and deep bonding friendship – sharing pudding over Jeopardy, getting his clock cleaned in Bingo, and trading mock punches with a fellow resident.
It was a real treat to watch this film with a big audience, whose laughter rolled and lifted you over some of the choppy camera work. It’s an incredibly valuable tool to have in your teaching kit, as well as in your home dvd collection. And heck, it’s only 20$.
The short films were equally well received. I’ll say up front that I’m a little biased…my center distributes one of them. We showed Kyoko Naturally, by Chris Thompson, Annie Lloyd by Cecelia Condit, Afloat by Erin Hudson, and Forgetfulness, a poem by Billy Collins and animated by HeadGear.
Kyoko is the story of the ebullient Kyoko Morris. She and Thompson embark on a joint project. He aims to create a film for his thesis project, and she aims to clear a path through her study. People in the field of aging will diagnose Kyoko pretty quickly. But the film helps us see more than a diagnosis…Kyoko is a dear friend and a role model for anyone in late life.
Annie Lloyd is Condit’s latest in film, in a career of creating gorgeous, thought provoking, Brother’s Grimm-like fairy tale films. This one is a love poem to her mother and a meditation on her own aging process. From her mother’s dying breath (a bold place to start the film), we learn that both mother and daughter see the world with the eyes of artists. All the way through to the end, Annie Lloyd opens herself to learning about life – “God is an artist” she says as she sifts through her collection of brightly colored leaves. She inspires us to be enchanted by our dreams, our memories, and the world around us. Her final “bye-byes” as she blows kisses to the camera are as though she’s taking a curtain call to the applause of everyone she’s ever known – thankful, playful, and eager to see what’s next.
Afloat is a moving and brief (5 minutes) meditation on the aging body in water. Bodies we are used to seeing a burdened and buckled, are buoyant and agile in spirit. The film asks us to wash ourselves clean of our biases and fears about the aging body long enough to see a little differently.
Forgetfulness is available on Youtube for the world to see – and the world really should see it. I won’t even describe it – just go watch it for yourself. You’ll love it.