Seniors Find Sun, Sin and Sorrow in a Fla. Retirement Village

New documentary, 'Kings Point,' explores America's denial of old age.

July 27, 2012, 4:54 PM

July 30, 2012— -- In 1979, Ida Gilman and her husband moved to Florida for the sun and the palm trees and the promise of a life rich with activities and other couples their own age.

She traded a New York City rental apartment for a $20,000 pink condominium in an organized community at Kings Point. There, Gilman immersed in the good life -- poolside chatter, mahjongg and dancing to the oldies.

But three decades later, her husband long gone and her own health failing, Gilman soured on her paradise retirement and moved back to spend her last days closer to family.

Old age, especially in an age-segregated community can be lonely, according to a new documentary, "Kings Point," which is directed by Gilman's granddaughter.

In her directorial debut, Sari Gilman follows five seniors over a decade, through sickness, death, regret and, surprisingly, the disillusionment of their seemingly idyllic lives.

The film, produced by Wider Film Projects, won the grand jury prize at Silverdocs last month and takes a hard look at aging and the nation's obsession with independence at all costs.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 40 million Americans are over the age of 65 and that number is expected to explode with the aging of baby boomers.

"No one wants to talk about it -- when we can't tie our own shoes," Gilman told

She said she had been fascinated by Kings Point, visiting her grandmother since she was 9 years old. "It seemed like a summer camp for older people."

But over time, she noticed a "shift" in the way grandmother Gilman related to others. "Everyone slowed down and the nature of their interaction changed a lot," she said.

Sari Gilman decided there was something there -- the need for relationships, no matter what the age, and the documentary was born.

She had previously worked with Rory Kennedy on HBO's Emmy-nominated "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib" (2007). Gilman received funding from Chicken & Egg Pictures, which supports women filmmakers who address important social issues.

"I kind of planted myself at the pool and started talking to people," said Gilman.

There, she met strident Gert, whose husband had died, and claimed she was too old for love.

"Some ladies have to have a male companion," she says. "They go through them like hot cakes and can't be alone for five minutes without a guy."

Gert avoids getting too close, fearing those around her only care about, "what can they get out of you -- everybody is a user here."

'Too Old' For Love and Affection

Bea and Frank, both without spouses now, are adamant they aren't a couple. But she cooks for him several times a week and he fills in as her dance partner. She longs for something more, but Frank says she is "too old."

Bea says, "Love comes in different forms. You are not going to bed with each other -- it's concern, you are deeply concerned about someone. Could that be love?"

Jane just tries to keep busy after losing first her husband, then a boyfriend. "I've got to get out there and do things or else I will die," she tells Gilman.

Mollie, who Gilman sees as the "soul" of the film, says she regrets moving away from her children, but, she admits it's "too late."

As a widow, she longs for connection, but not love. "You are older, your feelings are different," she says. "At 40 or 50, I can understand it. But not now -- I don't think there are any feelings there."

Mollie gets sicker, but her friends don't want to hear about her problems.

Producers Todd and Jedd Wider were moved by the film's socio-political impact. Their documentary, "Semper Fi, Always Faithful," about water contamination at Camp Lejeune, was shortlisted for an Academy Award for Best Documentary of 2011.

Both were touched by Gilman's exploration of the emotional lives of seniors. Their grandparents, who lived in their own home until their 90s, kept romance alive until they died.

"The most human quality is the desire to connect with others, and to never give up on falling in love," said Todd Wider, still a practicing plastic surgeon. "You never let go of that, even at the end."

In the larger health care debate in a country where the population is aging, Jedd Wider said that the mental health component "needs proper attention."

As for Gilman, she said she didn't want to make "that cute old person movie -- everyone staying because they are staying busy."

"That is not what I saw," she said.

Gilman captures the funeral notices that line the corridors of Kings Point. In the end, Mollie has aged dramatically. Gert watches TV alone when a friend declines to join her.

Bea and Frank are still dining together, but with no real commitment. "I need real love, but I don't get that from Bea," he says. She worries about "being hurt."

By the time Gilman finishes the film, Frank has died, with Bea at his side. Jane lived alone until she died. Mollie moves back to New York, only to die in a matter of weeks. Gert plods on at Kings Point.

Gilman insists her film isn't a "diatribe" against retirement communities. But she wonders why families don't have more choices.

"As Americans, it's kind of a badge of honor to be able to afford not to live with your children," she said. "We are so independent and our nuclear families disperse."

Gilman wants to inspire families to talk about aging.

"No one wants to get older," she said. "It's hard to deal with. No one enjoys it. But it would be made easier if we were a little more open and accepting of the natural deterioration that happens."

"Kings Point" has its awards-qualifying theatrical run at the International Film Center in New York City Aug. 3-9 and at Laemmle NoHo in Los Angeles, as well as screenings in San Francisco at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival and other cities.

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