The Not-So-Sunny Side of Getting Old

In her documentary Kings Point, director Sari Gilman tackles the taboo subject of aging in America

by Ruth Morganto
retirement community image
Kings Point
Photograph: Courtesy of HBO

Many of us envision spending our golden years whiling away the days in a sunny locale. The Academy Award nominated short documentary Kings Point,which focuses on five seniors living in a Florida retirement community, paints a much different picture of real-life aging in America, portraying it as a bittersweet experience marked by loneliness, declining health and the desire for real connections. Director Sari Gilman recently talked to More about the film, which following a limited theatrical release will premiere on HBO March 11.

More: Congratulations on your Oscar nomination. How did you find out you were nominated?
Sari Gilman: They announce the nominations at 5:30 a.m., and I knew I was shortlisted. So I got up at 4 and was G-chatting with some friends on the East Coast.  A little while later they were like, “Should we check the website? Should we check the website?” And I said, “Whatever, just let me distract myself and talk about something else.” Then all of the Google windows [of the people I was chatting with] started to light up, so I was like, ‘Oh my God!”

More: It’s kind of nice that it got to be a communal moment, rather than you being alone.
S.G.: True. That’s what I wanted. To be with somebody when I found out. Regardless of what the decision was.

More: Kings Point, which follows residents of a Florida retirement community of the same name, deals with topics like aging and death.  What inspired you to make such a serious film?
S.G.: I didn’t set out to tackle these big issues. It was more an outgrowth of my personal experience in the community. My grandmother lived there. I visited her from the time I was about 9, and I was always fascinated by the place. As kids, my sister and I thought it was like summer camp for old people. But I found it odd when people began to age, the way they were relating to each other.  I could tell that just beneath the surface, just beneath that promise of a life of leisure, there was stuff going on.  When I started the film [over a decade ago], aging wasn’t really a topic that anybody talked about. I feel that it is only now, as baby boomers are starting to age and we’re going to have a radical shift in the demographics of our society,  that people are starting to talk about it.

More: Was it hard to get the subjects of the film to be candid with you?
S.G.  It was really NOT hard—I think for a number of reasons. First of all, I was not a journalist coming in from the outside. I was a granddaughter of a resident, so they saw who I was and could relate to me. And a lot of the interviews were not interviews, they were conversations. I really shared a lot with the people I was talking to about what was going on in my grandmother’s life. My sense was that people were glad to have an opportunity to have an ear, to have someone who was interested in listening to them.

More: Nobody wants to talk about what’s going to happen when they get old. Are you hoping that your film changes that?   
S.G.: Absolutely! Everyone who watches the film always has a story that they want to tell about what is happening in their families—with their parents, with their children. There is a real taboo around talking about these hard things.  You know, a lot of times people end up making very huge life decisions in times of crisis. When somebody falls and breaks a hip, all of a sudden you’re like, “Where are we going to go?  What are we going to do?” I very much hope that the film encourages people to have those conversations in advance of a crisis.  

More: The characters in the film seem disconnected, even though they have lived together for years. Why do you think that is?
S.G.: I don’t know. I think there are a few possibilities. One is that, when you are surrounded by people who are getting sick and dying, it’s very scary to make connections because you don’t know how long they will be around. Another reason is that knowing people who are getting sick and dying reminds you of your own mortality, so you don’t want to get too close to that.  That’s just conjecture on my part.

More: Some grandparents move in order to be closer to their grandchildren.  Is the pattern changing whereby people leave their family to enjoy a retirement in the sun?
S.G.:I don’t know for sure. The people that I followed in the film were the first people to outlive what they thought their life expectancy to be.  When I asked them, “How did you imagine your life, when you were my age?”  they across the board said, “I never thought I would live this long.”  Now that people know they may live that long, they may be making different choices.  

More: Have you kept in touch with the residents of Kings Point?
S.G.: Yeah. I just got a call from one of them and I have to call her back. Bea and Gert are the only ones still around. But they’ve seen the film. I’ve been down to visit them—they are very excited.

Next: The Midlife Gal's Guide to the Oscar Movies

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First Published Fri, 2013-02-22 12:23

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