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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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