One year ago an unknown film called Alive Inside took the Sundance Film Festival by storm and showed audiences that the spark of life can be ignited in the most unlikeliest places through the universal power of music.
What I love most about Alive Inside is how it changed the way thousands (maybe millions) of people think about dementia, and by extension, their own identity and their own aging.
Since its success, I have been keeping an eager eye out for the next film to have similar potential to transform the way people think about aging. Last week I found one – The Age of Love.
If there is a greater universal truth than the power of music, it is the power of love. Hands down. The Age of Love is a ground breaking new documentary that captures the universal nature of love through a humorous, poignant and unprecedented inside look at the dating scene for 70-to-90-year-olds.
The Age of Love is an almost painfully honest look at ordinary people finding themselves unexpectedly looking for love in late life. It follows eight older adults in the city of Rochester, N.Y., who agreed to be filmed as they participate in the emotional rollercoaster of speed dating.
Yes, speed dating — for septa-and-octogenarians. It’s a growing trend nationally and when filmmaker Steven Loring learned that 30 adults age 70-to-90 had signed up for a speed dating event in his home town of Rochester he started calling participants to ask if he could interview them and film their experience.
Speed dating is a structured event that gathers a group of singles together and pairs them with one-another in a series of five minute mini-dates. Participants note down potential romantic interests on a scorecard that is submitted to an organizer after the event. No contact information is exchanged but if the scorecard indicates chemistry individuals are notified by mail and it’s on them to take it from there.
Sound like a gimmick put on for reality TV? One audience member at an early screening did call it “the best reality show I have ever seen.” That is actually a profound compliment to the filmmaker and participants.
Dating late in life is no joke. We are inundated with cultural messages and
advertisements telling us we are less beautiful and less desirable the older we get. Many people find themselves alone and isolated just at the point in life when they most need and desire companionship. As Janice, one of the film subjects, put it, “The heart might even be capable of more love now then before because I think I have a lot of love to give but I don’t have all the distractions I had before.”
Loring told the website Senior Planet about an even more poignant conversation he had with another subject in the film. That woman told him, “‘My own children don’t ask me what’s in my heart, what I’m feeling. They ask me what I need, they take care of me, they love me. But they never ask me about what I’m feeling emotionally. And I have so much to tell you…’”
I’m not reviewing this documentary as a film critic but as a pro-aging activist. From a critical standpoint it’s a phenomenal film, no question – it’s getting rave ratings. But from a transformational viewpoint this film humanizes aging in an unprecedented way. It’s subversively radical. This film lets viewers – no matter their age – genuinely experience the truth that love and companionship transcend age.
Why is that subversive? It flies in the face of our culture’s rampant ageism. Ageism is perpetuated by the mass media through propaganda that tells us that love, passion, sex and beauty are the exclusive domains of youth.
“When they put themselves out there and participated in this event these people just came alive,” Loring said. “They told me they felt liberated from society’s stereotypes.”
Just like governments use propaganda during times of war to dehumanize the enemy, our mainstream media uses propaganda to dehumanize old people and pressure all of us into buying youth-centric products. I’m not sure I can think of a more damaging stereotype than the myth that older people or disabled people or people living with cognitive changes like dementia do not desire or deserve love, companionship and physical intimacy as much as anyone else.
The beauty and power of The Age of Love is that it doesn’t hit viewers over the head with this message or an agenda. And there are no fairy tale endings in this film. It simply gives viewers an experience where they feel what these people feel. That is how change happens.
However, Loring does want pro-aging activists like us to help him spread the word. He has a beautiful plan to bring this film to the masses. He is organizing nationwide grassroots screening events in February 2015 around the theme of Valentine’s Day:
Beginning on Valentine’s Day 2015, we will be offering screenings of THE AGE OF LOVE for your local theater, corporation, residential community, ‘healthy aging’ organization, conference or school.
We’ve chosen Saturday, February 14th as the launch date in order to bring attention to stereotypes about the hearts of seniors on a day typically devoted to youth and romance. We want to send a strong message to national media that the desire to be seen and understood by a companion is universal, and that the urge to love and be loved remains strong, regardless of age.
Steve’s goal is to organize 300 screenings throughout the month of February reaching 25,000 people. He’s specifically targeting organizations that can follow-up with organized speed dating events in their communities. It’s super easy, cheap and incredibly fun and impactful.
I have a challenge specifically for ChangingAging’s audience. I know a lot of LTC culture change organizations read this blog. I’m talking to you now – LOVE is not just for “active seniors”. I want to see nursing homes and assisted living homes and memory care homes and home care agencies get behind this film. I want to see YOU hosting screenings AND hosting speed dating events. I know of at least one nursing home that has gotten involved and I’m going to report on their experience.
Don’t own a nursing home? You can help out too. One thing I learned from Alive Inside’s experience trying to break into the theaters was that film distributors, funders and even the media really pay attention to social media metrics – how many likes the film has on its Facebook page, how many notes of interest/support on the timeline or how many followers and retweets is has on Twitter. If you think this message deserves to be shared, “Like“ The Age of Love on Facebook here, follow it on Twitter here, and please post a comment.