Toronto performer, writer and filmmaker Steen Starr has finished “Older Than What?”, a charming and thought-provoking short film in which Twelve seniors respond to ten questions about aging. The first official public screening will be at QFest in St. Louis, March 29 – April 2, as part of the Queer Voices Shorts Program, and there’s hope Toronto will have one too. I asked Starr about the concept and the creation process involved in making the film:

Raymond: Do you recall where you were ad what you were doing when you had the idea for this film?
STEEN: About 5 years ago I made my first short film, very DIY, and it did well — screened at lots of festivals and won an audience award in Hamburg. That gave me confidence that I could do it again. That film was about Trans visibility and as I turned 50 in 2011 I began thinking about aging, ageism and the invisibility of older people, especially in the queer community. Thinking about a 2nd film I think that topic just naturally presented itself.

Raymond: How did you decide on who to interview?
STEEN: I mostly just approached people I met, though I also deliberately sought out older LGBTQs. I attended a Senior Pride Network conference in Toronto where I met Ma-Nee Chacaby, a 65 year old First Nations elder from Thunder Bay, and I went to a workshop on Old Lesbians at the 2014 World Pride Conference in Toronto where I met Jane Traies, a 70 year old lesbian from the UK. I also discovered the work of a gay gerontologist in San Francisco and attended an information forum he held in Vancouver, where I made connections with 3 of the film’s subjects. I wasn’t looking for high profile or well known people but ordinary LGBTQs who were now facing aging. However, after hearing an interview with Bill Richardson, an author and former CBC radio host, on the publication of his book of poems about aging, I contacted him and he was happy to be involved.

RAYMOND: What did making this film teach you about humanity?
STEEN: It sounds cliche, but everyone has a story to tell. That was really the joy and reward of the project. It’s lovely to sit down with people and ask them about themselves, their lives, experiences and wisdom. It’s pretty guaranteed that someone’s going to tell you something really interesting, or funny, or moving. I feel the film really belongs to the people in it, and the stories they share.

RAYMOND: What was the most challenging part of making this film?
STEEN: The most challenging — and probably most rewarding — was learning how to do it. I have a writing and theatre production background and know almost nothing about producing media art works. I spent a lot of time feeling terrified that I was going to accidentally delete the footage or somehow wreck it. I did, in fact, end up with some audio that’s not great and footage that’s way over-exposed, and there’s only so much you can do with that in post-production I learned! But I also had great help to show me the way, and I was extremely fortunate to secure grants from both the Toronto and Ontario Arts Councils, and I ran a modest Indiegogo campaign, so I had the luxury of being able to pay people for technical skills — camera, sound mix, editing support — to help me out. I’m now way more comfortable using a camera and I’m pretty good with editing software.

Photo above, Steen Starr / Feature photo: screenshot from the film.

RAYMOND: Has making this film changed the way you view aging?
STEEN: It’s maybe forced me to be more comfortable with my own aging, and to stand up more against ageist assumptions and prejudices. People tend to think I look a lot younger than I am and generally that’s supposed to be considered a compliment. But with the film out there I feel like I’m out there too, standing up for the fact that aging is not a detriment and that we’ll all become “older”, if we’re lucky! I’m hoping the film will have an impact on the way aging is viewed generally.

Older Than What?
A short documentary about the wisdom, experiences, sex appeal, struggles and charm of old(er) LGBTQs. For updated screening dates, click here.

Written/directed by Steen Starr, Editing and Story Consultant: Cecilio Guillermo Escobar, Audio Mix: Chandra Bulucon, Camera and Sound: Moe Laverty, Dylan Rhys Howard, Thom Stitt, Lulu Wei, Titles and Special Effects: Leela Mastaani

About the Author

Raymond Helkio is an author, director filmmaker, and graduate of Ontario College of Art & Design. He currently lives in both Toronto and New York. His most recent play, LEDUC, is now available in paperback.