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Meet the SXSW Filmmakers #47: The Lives of Three Gay Seniors Documented in PJ Raval's 'Before You Know It'

Indiewire By Indiewire | Indiewire March 7, 2013 at 7:53AM

Director PJ Raval has for the last 7 years established himself as one of the premiere filmmakers focusing on the LGBT community, and his most recent film "Before You Know It," is no exception. Attempting to demystify subject of aging sexuality, Raval focuses on three gay seniors, attempting to retain the sexuality of own of today's most ignored subjects.
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PJ Raval
Director PJ Raval has for the last 7 years established himself as one of the premiere filmmakers focusing on the LGBT community, and his most recent film "Before You Know It," is no exception. Attempting to demystify subject of aging sexuality, Raval focuses on three gay seniors, attempting to retain the sexuality of own of today's most ignored subjects.

What it's about:

BEFORE YOU KNOW IT captures the experiences of three gay seniors as they navigate the adventures, challenges and surprises of their “golden years.”

Tell Us About Yourself: Named one of Out Magazine’s “Out 100 2010” and Filmmaker Magazine’s ”25 new faces of independent film 2006,” PJ Raval is an award-winning filmmaker whose credits include TRINIDAD (Winner, Best Documentary Cleveland International Film Festival 2009, Showtime, LOGO), The Christeene video collection (SXSW), and BEFORE YOU KNOW IT (SXSW 2013 World Premiere). Raval is currently developing a feature fiction narrative with acclaimed screenwriter and playwright Prince Gomolvilas and recently directed a segment called “Rantings” as part of the 2011 remake of Richard Linklater’s indie classic SLACKER. He and producer Sara Giustini are also in development on a their next documentary further exploring individuals in the LGBT community.

Also an award-winning cinematographer, Raval’s work includes the 2009 Academy Award-nominated TROUBLE THE WATER as well as the Independent Spirit Award-nominated ROOM. Raval also lensed the highly anticipated feature THE BOUNCEBACK directed by Bryan Poyser (SXSW 2013).

What else do you want audiences to know about your film? Overall, society desexualizes seniors, even though someone who identifies as gay is being defined by their sexual identity. So the two terms "gay" and "senior" are almost at odds. So one challenge has been linking the two and getting people to understand self discovery including sexual identity occurs at all ages even when you're 80. So early on in development people asked "why look at gay seniors?" and I would say because they are an extreme example of those facing ageism, loneliness, and also people in search of a community. However, though the documentary captures the unique experience of three gay men over the age of 60, the film is really about aging and growing older which is a universal experience. As Robert, one of the characters in the film so eloquently states, "You never think about getting older when you're younger, but before you know it creeps up on you and you're there already..."

Before You Know It


What was your biggest challenge in developing this project? One thing I discovered early on during my research trips was recognizing that a lot of the seniors that I met were not familiar with a camera being present so trying to avoid making one feel like a deer caught in the headlights was a big challenge. Unlike the younger iphone generations who are posting videos on youtube about everything and anything, in some instances the seniors linked a video camera more to the evening news than they did documentary film. I needed to place extra attention on making them feel comfortable with the camera being present and get them to be able to continue their daily living. Showing my engagement without a camera in hand seemed to work a lot better.

Another big challenge making this film is featuring three different characters, in three different cities, on opposite sides of the country. There were a few occasions where we’d have to fly directly out to Portland then suddenly need to be in Harlem, NYC and then suddenly need to be in Galveston Texas. So as you can imagine travel could be quite extensive at times. This across the nation theme also continued into post production. At one point our editor was in Chicago, our Assistant Editor in NYC myself in LA or Austin, TX and producer in North Carolina. So we’ve definitely taken advantage of communication technology and transportation. This project was definitely a frequent flyer points extravaganza!

What would you like SXSW audiences to come away with after seeing your film? I really want the take away to be not only does it take a village to raise a child but it also takes a village to support an individual who is aging. It's a community effort, and community could be family, a bar, a living facility, your best friends. But aging alone can be a difficult process. The seniors I follow are all searching for and creating their own community because not everyone is fortunate enough to have one in place. It's up to everyone of all ages to support the older generations and it's all in our best interest as the aging process does not discriminate.

Did any specific films inspire you? There isn't one particular film that has inspired me, though I do love films that explore characters in their daily lives and the on-going challenges they face - capturing unfolding experiences. But at some point I found myself at an LGBT community center in upstate New York and there happened to be a large group of seniors and I remember thinking this was one of the first times I've witnessed a visible LGBT senior community. And that was really the first inspiration to make this film. That and watching my mother think about retirement. This film is inspired by all of these things and my meditation on the subject of aging.

What do you have in the works? Producer Sara Giustini and I have a new project already in development that will further explore another individual in the LGBT community similar in approach to BEFORE YOU KNOW IT. But for the next immediate project I really want to return to fiction filmmaking with a feature narrative that I've been developing for awhile that I can finally start diverting more attention to. So I'm excited to take this past documentary experience and use it as inspiration to tell stories about unique individuals on film in a different way. There's too many great stories to tell! I also have an on going not-safe-for-work video series I make with close collaborator Paul Soileau about a character named CHRISTEENE. We've been fortunate enough to premiere a new video at SXSW for the past three years and this year we will be back with a fourth video. I'm one lucky filmmaker...

Indiewire invited SXSW directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they're doing next. We'll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2013 festival.

 Keep checking HERE every day up to the launch of the festival on March 8 for the latest profiles.

This article is related to: Meet the 2013 SXSW Filmmakers, SXSW Film Festival