Documentary Takes a Look at Speed Dating for Seniors

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 hweissri@aol.com.

R.I. Producers Host Festival After Premiering New Film

Published in Pawtucket Times, September 20, 2013

In 1999, little did Anthony Ambrosino and Nick Delmenico, working in retail stores at a shopping plaza in Coventry on Tiogue Ave., know at the time that their budding friendship would later propel them into the movie business, even putting them on the red carpet at the recent Toronto International Film Festival.

At that time, the twenty-two year old Ambrosino was just “messing around with a camera with friends,” he recalled, it wasn’t really a hobby nor a career. But, four years later, in 2003, Ambrosino, got tired of making comedy movie sketches,” this just pushed him into asking his younger friend, Nick Delmenico, age 19, to co-write a script.

“I dragged Nick in, keeping him from going into the corporate world where he might make a decent living,” quipped Ambrosino. After many rewrites, in 2005, the two novice filmmakers would finish their first script, beginning their filming of Sleather, a 92 minute “comedic adventure, about friends, family and fame.” In 2010, the independent film, costing under $100,000 to make, mostly self-financed by Ambrosino and a few investors, was completed and premiered at the Rhode Island International Film Festival were it received the Audience Choice Award for the most popular film.

Before filming Sleather, the young Rhode Island film makers created a production company, Sleather Studios, later changing their moniker to The 989 Project four years later when they took on a business partner. “You really need a production company to make movies to attract actors to the auditions, noted Ambrosino. “Are you are going to respond to an audition called by Anthony and Nick, probably not,” he said. “We just wanted to be taken more seriously.” Now, the company is referred to as Ambrosino/Delmenico.

Being in “the business” for over a decade, now seasoned, Ambrosino and Delmenico have become key players in the Rhode Island film scene. In 2005, they co-founded the Rhode Island Film Collaborative, where Ambrosino, 36, serves as the group’s Vice President and Delmenico, 30, its Secretary on the Board of Directors. The Pawtucket-based nonprofit film group fosters the growth and education of the local independent film community.

Ambrosino has worn many hats on the movie set, that being Producer, Director, and advocate for film and television production in Rhode Island. The West Warwick, resident, has worked on numerous productions throughout the New England region and has produced five independent feature films which have garnered several awards, including Best Film at Monaco International Film Festival and the Audience Choice Award at the Rhode Island International Film Festival.

Ambrosino is a 2011 graduate of Leadership Rhode Island, a Producer and Programmer for the Pawtucket Film Festival, and currently sits on the Executive Board of the Pawtucket Arts Festival as the Marketing Chair.

Meanwhile, Delmenico is a Producer and Line Producer from Coventry, Rhode Island. Most recently he has completed four feature films, as well as several short films, which have won awards such as Best Film at the South African International Film Festival and a Spirit Award at the Boston International Film Festival.

Both are active in the Pawtucket film scene, being producers of the Pawtucket Film Festival, now in its 14th year. The three-day Pawtucket Film Festival celebrates the artists behind the films it shows.

Hot off the Press

With Ambrosino, serving as Producer, Delmenico co-produced Almost Human, which premiered in the 38th Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) Midnight Madness program. The TIFF took place in Toronto, Ontario, between Sept. 5-15, 2013. A total of 366 films from 70 different countries were screened at this prestigious international film festival including 145 world premieres that included the film from the Rhode Island film makers.

The TIFF programmers are very selective on what films get chosen, says Delmenico, noting that thousands may even be rejected.

Founded in 1976, TIFF is considered to be one of the most prestigious public events held for screening of independent films in the world. According to Wikipedia, in 1998, Variety magazine called TIFF “second only to Cannes in terms of high-profile pics, stars and market activity.” The website free encyclopedia also noted that in 2007, Time noted that TIFF had “grown from its place as the most influential fall film festival to the most influential film festival, period.”

Some of the most notable and publicly acclaimed films that have been premiered at TIFF include Chariots of Fire, The Big Chill, Silver Linings Playbook, The King’s Speech and Argo.

Now Ambrosino and Delmenico have reached a new level in film making. The New York-based IFC Midnight announced on Wednesday that it had acquired the North American rights for their film, Almost Human, following its TIFF premiere. “We are thrilled about Independent Film Channel (IFC) Midnight picking up the rights to their movie. It’s huge to get our name on a film that will be distributed throughout the country,” said Delmenico, noting that only a very small percentage of films get distribution deals.

Ambrosino said, “Getting acquired by IFC Midnight [owned by AMC Network] is crazy for a small film like this but it is a testament to Joe [Begos] and the rest of our cast and crew, he is a unique talent and the movie was a ton of fun to make.”

“We are so happy for Anthony and Nick as they had a dream to make movies and turned those dreams into actions. Throughout the years, I have witnessed them build their careers on various film and television production sets in Rhode Island. They gained experience, education, relationships, and together, have persevered to become wonderfully successful filmmakers with a phenomenal future ahead!, added Steven Feinberg, Executive Director, of the Rhode Island Film and TV Office.

Axe Murders and Alien Abduction

Written, produced and directed by former Coventry resident Joe Begos, Almost Human, which TIFF describes the 80 minute low-budget indie film as “… a raging inferno of axe murders and alien abduction…” and a ”… lean, mean, grisly indie horror flick,” was shot in February of 2012 with little fanfare and no big stars in front of or behind the camera. “I’ve always wanted my first film to be a gritty, dirty, low-budget splatter movie made with my friends just like Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson did for their first features, and it feels amazing that it actually happened and that people are responding to it,” said director Joe Begos.

The plot of Almost Human is quite simple. On a very quit night on the outskirts of a small town in Maine, Seth (played by Graham Skipper) witnesses his best friend Mark (Josh Ethier) suddenly disappear in a brilliant flash of blue light. Two years later, Seth still faces the fallout from this unexplainable event, with many of the locals blaming him for his friend’s disappearance. With the occurrence of a number of grisly murders taking place in throughout the small rural community Seth comes to believe that Mark has returned. Teaming up with Jen, Mark’s ex-girlfriend (Vanessa Leigh), he seeks to determine if their friend is responsible – or is it something they can not understand (possibly the result of an alien abduction).

About shooting in his home state, Begos added, “I love the feeling New England adds, I grew up loving Stephen King and in his stories the setting of Maine is like its own character, and I wanted to elicit that same feeling with Rhode Island.”

“Ninety nine percent of the scenes in Almost Human was shot throughout the Ocean State, says Delmenico, specifically in Coventry, Cranston, Little Compton, and East and West Greenwich. Rhode Islanders are well represented in front of the camera as well. Many of the film’s stars are from New England with the majority being from here.

A final note…

Mark your calendars. The three-day Pawtucket Film Festival runs on Thursday (Night) September 26th, Friday (Night) September 27th, Saturday (Day and Night) September 28th, and Sunday (Day and Night) September 29th. Pawtucket’s celebration of film offers music, movies, and more at every event.

Patrons are provided with a unique festival T-Shirt, courtesy of Pawtucket-based Mirror Image Inc., an array of food from local sponsors such as Iggy’s Bread, and beverages, which regularly includes beer donations from Sam Adams. Music, Food, Drinks, Short Films, Features, and an official T-Shirt ALL for the price $10 (per scheduled time). For a schedule, go to http://www.thepff.com/#!aboutus/c2414.

Finally, for more details on Almost Human, go to http://tiff.net/filmsandschedules/festival/2013/almosthuman.

Herb Weiss LRI ’12 is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health care, and medical issues, even the arts. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

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