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Mia Nakano LGBTQ | June 29, 2014 - 4:16pm

Elizabeth Woyke talks with Valerie Veatch, writer/director of 'Love Child,' about Internet addiction in Korea.

In 2010, a shocking story emerged from South Korea: a three-month-old girl had died from malnutrition because her parents were so immersed in an online game that they forgot to feed her. After Korean police arrested the couple, their court-appointed attorney requested lenience, arguing that they were addicted to Internet gaming and did not deliberately starve their daughter. It was the first time anyone had attempted to use Internet addiction to justify reducing a criminal sentence. The ensuing media coverage raised questions about online gaming/Internet addiction and the ramifications of living in a super-wired society like Korea, which has some of the world’s fastest Internet speeds and highest rates of Internet access. 
 
Love Child [http://lovechildmovie.com/], a new documentary from American filmmaker Valerie Veatch, is an attempt to chronicle this complex story and investigate the ongoing cultural and economic debates it sparked. (The film’s title is a reference to the child’s name, Sarang, which means ‘Love’ in Korean. The title also reflects the fact that the game her parents played – a now-defunct, role-playing game called Prius Online – was populated with child-like avatars that followed players and aided them in battles.)
 
Love Child premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2014 and will be broadcast on HBO later this month. Veatch talked to Hyphen about her mission for Love Child, her thoughts on Asians and Internet addiction, and how Koreans have responded to her film.
 
Hyphen: How did you first hear the story at the center of Love Child and why did you want to make a film about it?
 
Valerie Veatch: I was traveling in Rome at the time and the Italian news media made a big deal out of the story. It also felt like a piece of a bigger conversation that is growing as time unfolds: How are we handling the virtual space? What does it mean to be balancing our lives in between all of these environments? A lot of our experiences are now information we get from our devices. Is that addiction or an extension of ourselves into these virtual spaces? The film focuses on gaming, but in a broader sense, it’s a conversation about how we’re all using the Internet. We’re all kind of being sucked into or directed into this resource. Love Child is an extreme story, but it’s not like everyone’s lives aren’t being altered and shifted by social technologies – they are.
 
Hyphen: Love Child recounts this couple’s court case, but the film also examines the gaming world and the extreme gamer lifestyle and looks at Korean politics and economics. What do you hope to achieve with the film?
 
VV: My films are very much born out of conversations. I like to use them to create space for dialogue. They’re sort of a constructed space for ideas to play out over 90 minutes. I also really love taking characters and stories that are challenging and seeing how you might feel sympathetic for them. By the end of Love Child, [the viewer should] understand how this [tragedy] happened.
 
Hyphen: The movie does make the viewer wonder – and tries to explain – why Korea? Why are we seeing this level of online gaming/Internet addiction in Korea?
 
VV: It’s a product of the country’s highly sophisticated IT [information technology] infrastructure. What has happened in Korea in recent years, from an infrastructure point of view, is incredible. There’s so much Internet access and it’s so fast. There’s also a very community-oriented attitude towards gaming in Korea. Everyone games together in the same space [24-hour Internet cafés]. Everyone’s playing the same game. There’s kind of a sense of community about it. Korea also has a strong in-game economy [where you can make money by earning and re-selling virtual goods]. So, there’s a financial aspect also, which can make engagement even more intense. But, overall, I think [the level of Internet addiction in a country] just corresponds to the amount of access to technology. 
 
A similar, sad story happened in the U.S. as we were printing Love Child to go to Sundance [in October 2013]. A couple [in Oklahoma] that was always playing the online game Second Life neglected their three-year-old daughter so much that she nearly starved [and was taken away by authorities].
 
Hyphen: Did you consider broadening Love Child’s focus to include other countries? Online gaming/Internet addiction is a societal issue in China and Taiwan to some extent, as well.
 
VV: To look at other Asian cultures would have made this an entirely different film. At times, it was hard to not expand our mandate, but a good movie keeps things tight with its point of view, facts, and story. [Even just focusing on Korea] it wasn’t easy to balance all the information I wanted to get across in Love Child. It took a year and a half of editing and really working through the story.
                                                                                                                                                     
Hyphen: How have Korean viewers reacted to the film?
 
VV: Online gaming/Internet addiction can be an extremely political issue in Korea. For example, the Korean government is considering taxing Korean gaming companies [to help pay for Internet addiction treatment programs]. I was very nervous about how Love Child would read in Korea. We showed it at the JeonJu International Film Festival [in the southern Korean city of Jeonju] in May. The festival was adjacent to a college campus and a lot of kids showed up. And the kids just got it; they really understood the dialogue. Older Korean people, too, said to me, “Thank you for making this film.” It was amazing how well it read. I would call it an extremely positive receptionIn 2010, a shocking story emerged from South Korea: a three-month-old girl had died from malnutrition because her parents were so immersed in an online game that they forgot to feed her. After Korean police arrested the couple, their court-appointed attorney requested lenience, arguing that they were addicted to Internet gaming and did not deliberately starve their daughter. It was the first time anyone had attempted to use Internet addiction to justify reducing a criminal sentence. The ensuing media coverage raised questions about online gaming/Internet addiction and the ramifications of living in a super-wired society like Korea, which has some of the world’s fastest Internet speeds and highest rates of Internet access. In 2010, a shocking story emerged from South Korea: a three-month-old girl had died from malnutrition because her parents were so immersed in an online game that they forgot to feed her. After Korean police arrested the couple, their court-appointed attorney requested lenience, arguing that they were addicted to Internet gaming and did not deliberately starve their daughter. It was the first time anyone had attempted to use Internet addiction to justify reducing a criminal sentence. The ensuing media coverage raised questions about online gaming/Internet addiction and the ramifications of living in a super-wired society like Korea, which has some of the world’s fastest Internet speeds and highest rates of Internet access.
 
Love Child [http://lovechildmovie.com/], a new documentary from American filmmaker Valerie Veatch, is an attempt to chronicle this complex story and investigate the ongoing cultural and economic debates it sparked. (The film’s title is a reference to the child’s name, Sarang, which means ‘Love’ in Korean. The title also reflects the fact that the game her parents played – a now-defunct, role-playing game called Prius Online – was populated with child-like avatars that followed players and aided them in battles.)
 
Love Child premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2014 and will be broadcast on HBO later this month. Veatch talked to Hyphen about her mission for Love Child, her thoughts on Asians and Internet addiction, and how Koreans have responded to her film.
 
Hyphen: How did you first hear the story at the center of Love Child and why did you want to make a film about it?
 
Valerie Veatch: I was traveling in Rome at the time and the Italian news media made a big deal out of the story. It also felt like a piece of a bigger conversation that is growing as time unfolds: How are we handling the virtual space? What does it mean to be balancing our lives in between all of these environments? A lot of our experiences are now information we get from our devices. Is that addiction or an extension of ourselves into these virtual spaces? The film focuses on gaming, but in a broader sense, it’s a conversation about how we’re all using the Internet. We’re all kind of being sucked into or directed into this resource. Love Child is an extreme story, but it’s not like everyone’s lives aren’t being altered and shifted by social technologies – they are.
 
Hyphen: Love Child recounts this couple’s court case, but the film also examines the gaming world and the extreme gamer lifestyle and looks at Korean politics and economics. What do you hope to achieve with the film?
 
VV: My films are very much born out of conversations. I like to use them to create space for dialogue. They’re sort of a constructed space for ideas to play out over 90 minutes. I also really love taking characters and stories that are challenging and seeing how you might feel sympathetic for them. By the end of Love Child, [the viewer should] understand how this [tragedy] happened.
 
Hyphen: The movie does make the viewer wonder – and tries to explain – why Korea? Why are we seeing this level of online gaming/Internet addiction in Korea?
 
VV: It’s a product of the country’s highly sophisticated IT [information technology] infrastructure. What has happened in Korea in recent years, from an infrastructure point of view, is incredible. There’s so much Internet access and it’s so fast. There’s also a very community-oriented attitude towards gaming in Korea. Everyone games together in the same space [24-hour Internet cafés]. Everyone’s playing the same game. There’s kind of a sense of community about it. Korea also has a strong in-game economy [where you can make money by earning and re-selling virtual goods]. So, there’s a financial aspect also, which can make engagement even more intense. But, overall, I think [the level of Internet addiction in a country] just corresponds to the amount of access to technology. 
 
A similar, sad story happened in the U.S. as we were printing Love Child to go to Sundance [in October 2013]. A couple [in Oklahoma] that was always playing the online game Second Life neglected their three-year-old daughter so much that she nearly starved [and was taken away by authorities].
 
Hyphen: Did you consider broadening Love Child’s focus to include other countries? Online gaming/Internet addiction is a societal issue in China and Taiwan to some extent, as well.
 
VV: To look at other Asian cultures would have made this an entirely different film. At times, it was hard to not expand our mandate, but a good movie keeps things tight with its point of view, facts, and story. [Even just focusing on Korea] it wasn’t easy to balance all the information I wanted to get across in Love Child. It took a year and a half of editing and really working through the story.
                                                                                                                                                     
Hyphen: How have Korean viewers reacted to the film?
 
VV: Online gaming/Internet addiction can be an extremely political issue in Korea. For example, the Korean government is considering taxing Korean gaming companies [to help pay for Internet addiction treatment programs]. I was very nervous about how Love Child would read in Korea. We showed it at the JeonJu International Film Festival [in the southern Korean city of Jeonju] in May. The festival was adjacent to a college campus and a lot of kids showed up. And the kids just got it; they really understood the dialogue. Older Korean people, too, said to me, “Thank you for making this film.” It was amazing how well it read. I would call it an extremely positiveIn 2010, a shocking story emerged from South Korea: a three-month-old girl had died from malnutrition because her parents were so immersed in an online game that they forgot to feed her. After Korean police arrested the couple, their court-appointed attorney requested lenience, arguing that they were addicted to Internet gaming and did not deliberately starve their daughter. It was the first time anyone had attempted to use Internet addiction to justify reducing a criminal sentence. The ensuing media coverage raised questions about online gaming/Internet addiction and the ramifications of living in a super-wired society like Korea, which has some of the world’s fastest Internet speeds and highest rates of Internet access. 
 
Love Child [http://lovechildmovie.com/], a new documentary from American filmmaker Valerie Veatch, is an attempt to chronicle this complex story and investigate the ongoing cultural and economic debates it sparked. (The film’s title is a reference to the child’s name, Sarang, which means ‘Love’ in Korean. The title also reflects the fact that the game her parents played – a now-defunct, role-playing game called Prius Online – was populated with child-like avatars that followed players and aided them in battles.)
 
Love Child premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2014 and will be broadcast on HBO later this month. Veatch talked to Hyphen about her mission for Love Child, her thoughts on Asians and Internet addiction, and how Koreans have responded to her film.
 
Hyphen: How did you first hear the story at the center of Love Child and why did you want to make a film about it?
 
Valerie Veatch: I was traveling in Rome at the time and the Italian news media made a big deal out of the story. It also felt like a piece of a bigger conversation that is growing as time unfolds: How are we handling the virtual space? What does it mean to be balancing our lives in between all of these environments? A lot of our experiences are now information we get from our devices. Is that addiction or an extension of ourselves into these virtual spaces? The film focuses on gaming, but in a broader sense, it’s a conversation about how we’re all using the Internet. We’re all kind of being sucked into or directed into this resource. Love Child is an extreme story, but it’s not like everyone’s lives aren’t being altered and shifted by social technologies – they are.
 
Hyphen: Love Child recounts this couple’s court case, but the film also examines the gaming world and the extreme gamer lifestyle and looks at Korean politics and economics. What do you hope to achieve with the film?
 
VV: My films are very much born out of conversations. I like to use them to create space for dialogue. They’re sort of a constructed space for ideas to play out over 90 minutes. I also really love taking characters and stories that are challenging and seeing how you might feel sympathetic for them. By the end of Love Child, [the viewer should] understand how this [tragedy] happened.
 
Hyphen: The movie does make the viewer wonder – and tries to explain – why Korea? Why are we seeing this level of online gaming/Internet addiction in Korea?
 
VV: It’s a product of the country’s highly sophisticated IT [information technology] infrastructure. What has happened in Korea in recent years, from an infrastructure point of view, is incredible. There’s so much Internet access and it’s so fast. There’s also a very community-oriented attitude towards gaming in Korea. Everyone games together in the same space [24-hour Internet cafés]. Everyone’s playing the same game. There’s kind of a sense of community about it. Korea also has a strong in-game economy [where you can make money by earning and re-selling virtual goods]. So, there’s a financial aspect also, which can make engagement even more intense. But, overall, I think [the level of Internet addiction in a country] just corresponds to the amount of access to technology. 
 
A similar, sad story happened in the U.S. as we were printing Love Child to go to Sundance [in October 2013]. A couple [in Oklahoma] that was always playing the online game Second Life neglected their three-year-old daughter so much that she nearly starved [and was taken away by authorities].
 
Hyphen: Did you consider broadening Love Child’s focus to include other countries? Online gaming/Internet addiction is a societal issue in China and Taiwan to some extent, as well.
 
VV: To look at other Asian cultures would have made this an entirely different film. At times, it was hard to not expand our mandate, but a good movie keeps things tight with its point of view, facts, and story. [Even just focusing on Korea] it wasn’t easy to balance all the information I wanted to get across in Love Child. It took a year and a half of editing and really working through the story.
                                                                                                                                                     
Hyphen: How have Korean viewers reacted to the film?
 
VV: Online gaming/Internet addiction can be an extremely political issue in Korea. For example, the Korean government is considering taxing Korean gaming companies [to help pay for Internet addiction treatment programs]. I was very nervous about how Love Child would read in Korea. We showed it at the JeonJu International Film Festival [in the southern Korean city of Jeonju] in May. The festival was adjacent to a college campus and a lot of kids showed up. And the kids just got it; they really understood the dialogue. Older Korean people, too, said to me, “Thank you for making this film.” It was amazing how well it read. I would call it an extremely positive reception. receptionElizabeth Woyke talks with Valerie Veatch, writer/director of Love Child, about Internet addiction in Korea.

Elizabeth Woyke | July 16, 2014 - 7:17am

Sylvie Kim is getting married and keeping her name -- no matter what the county clerk thinks about it.

Sylvie Kim | July 14, 2014 - 11:31am

Activist Ju Hong shares the story of his return visit to South Korea.

Ju Hong | July 11, 2014 - 6:33am

For July, we're excited to be able to bring you a sneak peek of Ed Lin's forthcoming novel, Ghost Month.

Ed Lin | July 10, 2014 - 6:49am

Hyphen columnist Theresa Celebran Jones writes about her attempts to adapt her lifestyle for healthier living.

 

Theresa Celebran Jones | July 7, 2014 - 7:09am

The Supreme Court's recent ruling threatens clinic buffer zones and women's access to health care.

Nadia Hussain | July 3, 2014 - 10:21am

Sarah Ha writes about some of the educational barriers facing AAPI communities and lists organizations you can join to help advocate for students.

Sarah Ha | July 1, 2014 - 7:47am

The Visibility Project and Hyphen magazine have partnered to create LGBTQ Hyphen, the first dedicated LGBTQ online section in a mainstream and nationwide Asian American publication. This is historic. We raise and highlight LGBTQ AAPI voices like never before and bring LGBTQ AAPI opinions and lenses to national debates.

Mia Nakano LGBTQ | June 28, 2014 - 12:35am

Have a stomach ache? Drink ginger tea.

Getting a cold? Eat garlic.

Anything else? Just use Tiger Balm.

Elokin | June 28, 2014 - 12:07am

 

"What i want people to take away from this film is that it is not just LGBT seniors, it's seniors everywhere. Everyone gets older, and everyone is going to -- if not currently -- face this ageism and discrimination. LGBT seniors are extreme cases of this. That's why I hope people can watch my documentary and see it as an entry point to understand it in their own lives whether they identify with the LGBT community or not."  - PJ Raval

Whether shooting music videos with long-time collaborator, self-described "drag terrorist" CHRISTEENE, or following the lives of three elderly gay men shunned by an ageist society in his critically well-received documentary Before You Know It, Filipino American filmmaker PJ Raval's work places a huge spotlight on parts of culture rarely portrayed in popular media, and thus all too often ignored or unknown by the general public. Raval's artistic courage has led to his inclusion in Out Magazine's Hot 100 in 2010 and Filmmaker's 25 New Faces of Independent Film in 2006. "My work looks at outsider narratives," says Raval. "I'm really interested in exploring stories, concepts, themes and ideas that are more outside the mainstream view, even within the LGBT canon of work."
Raval enjoys how his work with CHRISTEENE represents "the more extreme, unapologetic, radical side of queerness." Take, for instance, CHRISTEENE’s form of drag: the more familiar versions of drag are rooted in either pastiche or parody of womanhood—the former mastering gender illusion and the latter poking fun at the social expectations around femininity—as seen on many of the polished contestants of the popular Logo television show “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” CHRISTEENE instead dons an unkempt and sloppy wig, sunken eyes, smeared lipstick and unwashed panties, rejecting the gender binary of male and female and skewering the idea that impersonating a woman necessitates hewing to society’s construct of beauty.
Since 2008, the pair have created seven videos, often raw, grungy and raunchy enough to be banned by YouTube. "They're definitely in the spirit of NFSW,” muses the filmmaker. One such video, “African Mayonnaise,” includes scenes of CHRISTEENE, clad in a torn one-shoulder dress, walking through a suburban mall alongside two male backup dancers, dressed in only too-small t-shirts and purple briefs. Raval captures the startled and disgusted looks of the patrons, and there’s a sense that the duo are toying with how LGBT people sometimes have the insult “freak” thrown at them. Here, it’s thrown right back in their faces. Yet, this act isn’t arbitrary. There’s a dark humour underneath: there’s never any danger of CHRISTEENE harming the patrons, it’s all a performance—the fact that Raval shows some patrons smiling in amusement highlights this point.
The legendary drag queen RuPaul has spoken about the role of drag in highlighting the artifice in life: “People who have lived on the outside understand that what’s inside the box is a hoax, actually a big illusion.” While on one hand, LGBT rights have progressed through the presentation of a wholesome image nested within normative structures such as marriage and fitness for military participation—images that fit the illusion—CHRISTEENE is a rebuke to polite society. The videos, with their anything goes spirit, highlights the freedom in being the outsider, and serve as a reminder to parts of the LGBT community that have conformed to the mainstream in a bid for legitimacy.
While the CHRISTEENE videos are about an in your face persona, Before You Know It examines the lives of those who have been rendered invisible in society: LGBTQ seniors. While LGBTQ visibility has increased in recent years, the faces broadcast in the media continue to be similar and predictable, slow to break out of certain stereotypes. "When the common person thinks of a gay man, for instance, they think of some 24 year-old gym-bodied person in Chelsea or in the Castro," notes Raval, referring to the two well-established LGBTQ neighborhoods in New York and San Francisco. "They don't think of an 80 year old person living in Florida or in Galveston, Texas," he adds, two states from where his protagonists hail. 
According to Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), which provides services and supports for LGBTQ elders, there are at least 1.5 million LGBTQ Americans over the age of 65. By 2030, that number is expected to double. Before You Know It draws attention to this growing group, one where loneliness is a rampant issue. Statistics show that elder LGBTQ Americans are twice as likely to live alone compared to their straight counterparts. In a
touching scene from the documentary filmed at a SAGE gathering, when elders in the room are asked to confirm that they live alone, almost all hands shoot up. "If you think about it, it makes sense: a lot of them don't have kids, a lot of them don't have partners, they don't have the family structure in place," says Raval. "It is hard to age alone." 
The spark for Before You Know It came in 2008 during a screening in upstate New York of Raval's last film, Trinidad, a feature-length documentary about three transgender women living in Trinidad, CO. This screening had an almost exclusive audience of LGBT elders. "At that moment I realized how little I'd seen or heard of them as a community, and I started to question why," he wrote in Huffington Post about the experience.
The title for the documentary comes from one of its subjects, Robert, a gay bar owner from Galveston, Texas: "You never think about getting older when you're younger. But, before you know it, it creeps up on you and you're there already." As the film unfolds, viewers realize how often elders find themselves unprepared for aging and struggle to adjust to how society now perceives them. Another subject, Dennis, a former Player of the Year for Badminton Magazine in mid-life, affirms this idea when he tells the camera: "I really don't feel very old. When I look into the mirror I said who the heck is that in there?"
Before You Know It had a limited theatrical release in May and is currently touring the country. But while the film centers upon LGBTQ characters and their unique specific obstacles -- such as feeling pressured to hide their orientation or seeing large parts of their support system pass away during the HIV/AIDS crisis -- Raval is quick to point out the experience of struggle in old age explored in the film is universal, and therefore relevant to larger audiences. 
"What i want people to take away from this film is that it is not just LGBT seniors, it's seniors everywhere," he notes. "Everyone gets older, and everyone is going to -- if not currently -- face this ageism and discrimination. LGBT seniors are extreme cases of this. That's why I hope people can watch my documentary and see it as an entry point to understand it in their own lives whether they identify with the LGBT community or not." 
In a youth-obsessed culture, it can become easy for people to resign themselves to a “best before” date on their lives, lowering their expectations of what they can accomplish later in life. In part, this comes from our short-sighted perceptions on age and aging. Raval, who just turned 40, had felt this but the experience of filming Before You Know It has helped him become more comfortable with getting older. "I think, like everyone else, there's a certain nervousness with time passing, but one thing I learned from these seniors was that they are living life to the fullest." 
There are few certainties in life let alone when it comes to aging, which is perhaps why it is so important to acknowledge and tackle problematic issues around it now. When asked about his own ideal vision of the future, Raval says: "When I'm, say, 75, I hope that I'm surrounded by great friends, hopefully I'm with my partner, hopefully I have a place to go to and feel included and understood and heard and seen. You know?" Luckily, films like Before You Know It could make that dream more of a reality.  
Whether shooting music videos with long-time collaborator, self-described "drag terrorist" CHRISTEENE, or following the lives of three elderly gay men shunned by an ageist society in his critically well-received documentary Before You Know It, Filipino American filmmaker PJ Raval's work places a huge spotlight on parts of culture rarely portrayed in popular media, and thus all too often ignored or unknown by the general public. Raval's artistic courage has led to his inclusion in Out Magazine's Hot 100 in 2010 and Filmmaker's 25 New Faces of Independent Film in 2006. "My work looks at outsider narratives," says Raval. "I'm really interested in exploring stories, concepts, themes and ideas that are more outside the mainstream view, even within the LGBT canon of work."
Raval enjoys how his work with CHRISTEENE represents "the more extreme, unapologetic, radical side of queerness." Take, for instance, CHRISTEENE’s form of drag: the more familiar versions of drag are rooted in either pastiche or parody of womanhood—the former mastering gender illusion and the latter poking fun at the social expectations around femininity—as seen on many of the polished contestants of the popular Logo television show “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” CHRISTEENE instead dons an unkempt and sloppy wig, sunken eyes, smeared lipstick and unwashed panties, rejecting the gender binary of male and female and skewering the idea that impersonating a woman necessitates hewing to society’s construct of beauty.
Since 2008, the pair have created seven videos, often raw, grungy and raunchy enough to be banned by YouTube. "They're definitely in the spirit of NFSW,” muses the filmmaker. One such video, “African Mayonnaise,” includes scenes of CHRISTEENE, clad in a torn one-shoulder dress, walking through a suburban mall alongside two male backup dancers, dressed in only too-small t-shirts and purple briefs. Raval captures the startled and disgusted looks of the patrons, and there’s a sense that the duo are toying with how LGBT people sometimes have the insult “freak” thrown at them. Here, it’s thrown right back in their faces. Yet, this act isn’t arbitrary. There’s a dark humour underneath: there’s never any danger of CHRISTEENE harming the patrons, it’s all a performance—the fact that Raval shows some patrons smiling in amusement highlights this point.
The legendary drag queen RuPaul has spoken about the role of drag in highlighting the artifice in life: “People who have lived on the outside understand that what’s inside the box is a hoax, actually a big illusion.” While on one hand, LGBT rights have progressed through the presentation of a wholesome image nested within normative structures such as marriage and fitness for military participation—images that fit the illusion—CHRISTEENE is a rebuke to polite society. The videos, with their anything goes spirit, highlights the freedom in being the outsider, and serve as a reminder to parts of the LGBT community that have conformed to the mainstream in a bid for legitimacy.
While the CHRISTEENE videos are about an in your face persona, Before You Know It examines the lives of those who have been rendered invisible in society: LGBTQ seniors. While LGBTQ visibility has increased in recent years, the faces broadcast in the media continue to be similar and predictable, slow to break out of certain stereotypes. "When the common person thinks of a gay man, for instance, they think of some 24 year-old gym-bodied person in Chelsea or in the Castro," notes Raval, referring to the two well-established LGBTQ neighborhoods in New York and San Francisco. "They don't think of an 80 year old person living in Florida or in Galveston, Texas," he adds, two states from where his protagonists hail. 
According to Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), which provides services and supports for LGBTQ elders, there are at least 1.5 million LGBTQ Americans over the age of 65. By 2030, that number is expected to double. Before You Know It draws attention to this growing group, one where loneliness is a rampant issue. Statistics show that elder LGBTQ Americans are twice as likely to live alone compared to their straight counterparts. In a
touching scene from the documentary filmed at a SAGE gathering, when elders in the room are asked to confirm that they live alone, almost all hands shoot up. "If you think about it, it makes sense: a lot of them don't have kids, a lot of them don't have partners, they don't have the family structure in place," says Raval. "It is hard to age alone." 
The spark for Before You Know It came in 2008 during a screening in upstate New York of Raval's last film, Trinidad, a feature-length documentary about three transgender women living in Trinidad, CO. This screening had an almost exclusive audience of LGBT elders. "At that moment I realized how little I'd seen or heard of them as a community, and I started to question why," he wrote in Huffington Post about the experience.
The title for the documentary comes from one of its subjects, Robert, a gay bar owner from Galveston, Texas: "You never think about getting older when you're younger. But, before you know it, it creeps up on you and you're there already." As the film unfolds, viewers realize how often elders find themselves unprepared for aging and struggle to adjust to how society now perceives them. Another subject, Dennis, a former Player of the Year for Badminton Magazine in mid-life, affirms this idea when he tells the camera: "I really don't feel very old. When I look into the mirror I said who the heck is that in there?"
Before You Know It had a limited theatrical release in May and is currently touring the country. But while the film centers upon LGBTQ characters and their unique specific obstacles -- such as feeling pressured to hide their orientation or seeing large parts of their support system pass away during the HIV/AIDS crisis -- Raval is quick to point out the experience of struggle in old age explored in the film is universal, and therefore relevant to larger audiences. 
"What i want people to take away from this film is that it is not just LGBT seniors, it's seniors everywhere," he notes. "Everyone gets older, and everyone is going to -- if not currently -- face this ageism and discrimination. LGBT seniors are extreme cases of this. That's why I hope people can watch my documentary and see it as an entry point to understand it in their own lives whether they identify with the LGBT community or not." 
In a youth-obsessed culture, it can become easy for people to resign themselves to a “best before” date on their lives, lowering their expectations of what they can accomplish later in life. In part, this comes from our short-sighted perceptions on age and aging. Raval, who just turned 40, had felt this but the experience of filming Before You Know It has helped him become more comfortable with getting older. "I think, like everyone else, there's a certain nervousness with time passing, but one thing I learned from these seniors was that they are living life to the fullest." 
There are few certainties in life let alone when it comes to aging, which is perhaps why it is so important to acknowledge and tackle problematic issues around it now. When asked about his own ideal vision of the future, Raval says: "When I'm, say, 75, I hope that I'm surrounded by great friends, hopefully I'm with my partner, hopefully I have a place to go to and feel included and understood and heard and seen. You know?" Luckily, films like Before You Know It could make that dream more of a reality.  

Jaime Woo | June 27, 2014 - 5:31pm
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