“Before You Know It,” a documentary by director PJ Raval, chronicles a subject that I haven’t seen covered in any medium: the lives of gay seniors. All over the age of 65, Raval’s three subjects have dealt with so many diverse issues in their time – from sexual identity to politcal controversy – and are now navigating the challenges of elderly life.
Dennis, 78 years old, didn’t pursue his gay lifestyle until the passing of his wife. He’d long had an affinity for women’s clothing, but kept his interest secret for fear of alienating his family. He now spends much of his time alone and travels from Niceville, Florida to a gay retirement community called Rainbow Vista in Portland, Oregon.
Robert owns a gay bar in Galveston Texas; he’d previously performed in the bar’s famous drag shows, but he’s focused now on guiding his protégés into the spotlight and slowly transitioning himself out, as he’s worried about his health deteriorating.
Raval’s third subject is Ty, an African-American activist who leads the Harlem division of SAGE (Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders) – while comfortable with his sexuality and committed to his long-term partner, Ty works to create a safe environment in Harlem for GLBT individuals to connect and interact. We follow Ty’s story as New York State passes the bill legalizing gay marriage.
Raval paints three extremely different pictures; while the subjects are all dealing with their increased age and all identify as homosexual, their experiences and lives are distinct. While all great stories, Dennis’s seems the most editorially fleshed-out. During the panel discussion that followed the film, Raval mentioned that he had hundreds of hours of content, and it’s clear to me that he tried to include as much as he could. “Before You Know It” is hindered by a series of false endings and the slow pace of the second half – 20 to 30 minutes could be cut to tighten the end of the film – but the stories themselves are beautiful and fascinating.
Overall, I liked the film and it offers some insight into a world we’ve seen little if anything about. I applaud Raval for his ambitious project and I hope this film increases awareness and discussion about the issues it raises – elderly life, the GLBT community, and that, whatever people in any given “category” may share, each person has their own story.
Check out the great panel discussion that following the films screening at IFFBoston.