Published in Pawtucket Times, August 9, 2014
Three years ago, a personal story would lead filmmaker Steven Loring to zero in on a topic for his MFA thesis film while studying at the Social Documentary Film Program in NYC’s School of Visual Arts. His thesis ultimately grew into a 78-minute documentary, “The Age of Love,” which follows the adventures of 30 seniors who sign up for a speed dating event exclusively for 70- to 90-year-olds. The film premieres at the Rhode Island International Film Festival, Sunday, August 10, at 12:15 p.m. at the Paff Theatre at URI, 80 Washington Street, Providence. And there’s a special offer for anyone who comes to the box office with a date: When you buy one ticket, your date gets in FREE! Any date! Any age!
The story took shape after the passing away of Loring’s father in 2008 left his still-vibrant mother alone after being married to her soul mate for nearly half a century. At that same time, his 80-year old uncle, who’d never even dated, to Loring’s amazement suddenly fell madly in love with an 80-year-old woman, both acting like love-struck teenagers.
“It was like they were in high school again,” Loring says, noting that the couple walked around holding hands and that he even found their bedroom door shut when he visited.
These events pushed the Brooklyn-based filmmaker to take a look at relationships in one’s later years. His research efforts revealed that the nation’s media had neglected issues involving seniors’ emotional and intimate needs. On the internet, he found that speed dating for seniors was a newly emerging trend which had occurred in a few communities in Florida and Colorado. Ultimately, a speed dating event in Rochester, New York would give him the perfect place to explore and document and come away with new insights into the issue.
Loring’s efforts to reconcile two dynamically opposite life experiences, losing a long-term intimate relationship and suddenly finding one at an advanced age, led the graduate student to finally formulate this thesis question, “Do decades of life and loss constrict our hearts, or might time develop them in unexpected ways,” That’s the question the 51-year-old filmmaker attempts to answer in his film project.
Speed Dating for Seniors
Loring’s documentary, a winner of the 2013 Paley Center DocFest Pitch Competition and recently awarded a prestigious Fledgling Fund social engagement grant, follows the amusing and emotional adventures of the seniors who signed up for the Rochester speed dating event, which was organized by a ‘healthy aging’ coalition to bring new social opportunities to the older community. The trendy matchmaking process allowed these individuals to meet for a brief five minutes. When the time was up the organizer sounded a bell, signaling participants to move on to the next table. Each kept a tally of those they would like to contact later. If both parties were interested in each other, a follow up date would occur.
According to Loring, as a result of the heavy promotion of this unique event, combined with the intense local media buzz, “dozens of area seniors called to register, all willing to put themselves out there, to take stock of their aging bodies and still-hopeful hearts.”
“The film takes viewers where no documentary has gone before – directly into the lives of older singles who still yearn to be seen and understood, who still desire another’s touch, who seek a new chance of love,” says Loring. Unlike other recent documentaries exploring issues of aging, the film maker saw an “opportunity to break social and generational barriers by looking at the older participants not in terms of singular talents or specific communities, but through shared, human desires.”
For three months, Loring filmed without a crew. He was able to easily develop personal relationships with the senior speed daters “allowing candid stories to emerge by following their everyday routines,” he says.
Looking to Find That Perfect Match
Loring notes that some participants came seeking simple companionship, while others came looking for that special mate. Among the speed daters who appear in the film: An 81-year-old bodybuilding champ, divorced since his fifties, who still believes new love is possible; a skydiving widow who dulls her loss by pursuing younger men; a grandmother and online-dating addict searching the web for Mr. Right; a romantic 79-year-old who discards his portable oxygen for a sunset tango on the beach, a 1940s movie fanatic who escaped an abusive marriage, yet still seeks her ‘Fred and Ginger’ romance.
Janice Ledtke, 78, a resident of Webster, New York, a suburb of Rochester, remembers making the decision to participate in speed dating. After 38 years of being single following her divorce in 1976, she jumped at the chance to meet new people. “What did I have to lose,” says Ledtike, a former property management employee, who met dates over the years at singles groups or through being fixed up by friends.
“You never know who you just might meet,” remembers Ledtike, noting when her friends found out about her participation in the speed dating event and documentary, “they thought I was crazy, but it’s just another one of my adventures.”
Ledtke says she met a variety of personalities at the speed dating event. But her follow up dates with a film maker, a retired professor and an owner of a small insurance company went nowhere. “I was not necessarily looking to find the love of my life, but if it happened, it happened,” she adds, stressing that it was not the end of the world because she came away with a number of new friends.
Linda Sorrendino, 72, had many long-term relationships since her 1973 divorce. “I have many diamonds to prove this,” quips the resident of Victor, New York. Over the years, like Ledtke, she would meet people by attending singles groups or through friends.
Learning from a friend about the speed dating event, Sorrendino, a retired office clerk, immediately signed up. “You just never know. As to landing a relationship, “you just go with the flow,” she remarks.
As Sorrendino reflects on her speed dating experience and her late life relationships, she notes, “I don’t want to be with a decrepit old man, but I also don’t want to be with somebody a lot younger who looks better that I do and feels like he’s with an old lady.”
A Final Thought…
“The film’s message is so positive and encouraging,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “Watching these folks surely will make it easier for others to re-enter the dating scene. At the same time, there is a subtext that is very important: No one featured in the documentary seems desperate. Each has found a way to move on from divorce or loss of a spouse or partner. Will they find their storybook ending? I think the film makes it clear that there are no promises. But there’s a strong message that giving love another chance is not so intimidating – especially if you find some an organized group that puts you among people of similar age and circumstance.”
The documentary also will reveal to its broader audience that the desire for companionship and intimacy does not evaporate at some advanced specific age,” Connell added. “These feelings are not always easy for people to discuss with their children or grandchildren. Its great people get to see these folks take part in the speed-dating experience because in the accompanying interviews they reveal hopes and fears many hold inside. But I love the takeaway: ‘If something happens, that’s great. If not, I’ll still be okay.’”
Loring plans to work with AARP and other ‘healthy aging’ organizations across the country to bring older adults together in 25 cities next year at senior speed dating events. For more information go to theAgeofLoveMovie.com or email steven@theAgeofLoveMovie.com
Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at email@example.com.