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No walk in the park

Sat 23 Apr 2011 In: Movies View at NDHA

Far from the usual groups of frivolous and fabulous gay 20-somethings we generally see on screen, Auckland's Number 8 Films have told a story from what could be classified as our silent generations in their latest work The Colonel's Outing. The short film from the award-winning makers of Teddy and Communication looks at love and new hope between two men who are in their twilight years. Elderly writer Tristan Jones (Tyl Von Randow), is cooped up in a retirement home re-reading his novel with the bitter title Our Duty To Die over and over again. Then Colonel (David Fitchew) arrives and moves into his room, sparking a friendship and romance which flings them out of their lonely existences. The film is based on an original story by Steve Attwood, which was adapted for the screen by Director Chris Banks, who along with Producer Andy Jalfon and a hardworking team of up and comers, family, friends and volunteers make up Number 8 Films. Banks was attracted to the story due to the growing tide of concern about the issue of aged care for the queer community, as the older generation who fought for our rights are in some cases being forced back into the closet as they go into care. Sharing a room with your same-sex partner isn't always an option, which Banks says according to anecdotal evidence isn't necessarily always due to the care provider, but often because of the objections of families. "It's an invisible population," Banks says. "The three word mantra for Age Concern is about being visible, vocal and valued ... and it was very much at the forefront of my mind when developing this story – putting two older gay men front and centre of the story. Not having them as the quirky father or the quirky uncle, in the background. This was about putting their lives and their issues front and centre." Banks says society can be ageist and youth focused enough, whereas the gay men's community is very much focused around youth. "The positive aspects of ageing are often ignored. You have gay men in their 20s not wanting to admit to their age, thinking that turning 30 is the end of the world. We can laugh about that but the fact people even voice those thoughts kind of suggests to me we have a serious issue around this." Jalfon agrees, saying generally gay films focus on guys in their late teens, 20s or early 30s, trying to come to term with their sexuality or relationships. "You just don't hear about guys in their 70s and 80s. But they've got their own stories to tell and life doesn't finish at 40, contrary to some popular belief. It carries on. And we really wanted to demonstrate the positive side of that." Banks says one of the main messages is around hope when it comes to love and relationships. "That it's never too late and you're never too old to be able to find the love you want. And the characters in the film are very much at a time in their lives that perhaps they have very much given up hope around that aspect of their lives. They're feeling that loss of control. That inevitability of, 'well, this is it, let's just ride it out until I shut my eyes and don't wake up again'." Telling a different story also helped shine a light on a different invisibility issue – that of older actors who struggle to get lead roles. Banks says Von Randow, a talented actor, struggled to get even the stereotypical 'quirky grandfather' or 'kindly uncle' role because it's a stereotype he doesn't fit. "There are levels to this," Banks says. "There are actors out there that are great and are looking for work, and don't have the opportunity to be able to portray characters onscreen because no-one's telling stories about this age group." Further punctuating the issue of turning invisibility into visibility is the fact that the film would not have been made without the help of the Mental Health Foundation, which sunk funding into its production because it believed it was a story which deserved to have a place on screen. Number 8 Films self-funded their first two productions, something they couldn't continue doing, and when it looked for financial backing quickly realised the issues of overcoming depression could fit really well with The Mental Health Foundation's Out of the Blue programme, which focuses on depression in men. Banks says the Foundation is very much aware of the fact that gay men and older men experience depression at higher rates than the general population, and that it generally goes undiagnosed. "Basically without the major grant from the Foundation, the film would not exist, which is why their name is at the head of the credits." The Foundation seems to be getting its money's worth - the film has been picked up for festivals all over the world already and Jalfon believes that will continue, as it's a work which will have broad appeal. "We've got real high hopes for this. I think that it's going to resonate with a different audience than we would normally expect, because we're looking at the older generation, who often don't get their stories heard," he says. Jacqui Stanford - 23rd April 2011    

Credit: Jacqui Stanford

First published: Saturday, 23rd April 2011 - 12:11pm

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