PJ Raval’s (“Trinidad”) latest feature documentary “Before You Know It,” screening Sunday at 5 p.m at the Harmony Gold at the 2013 Outfest LGBT Film Festival, explores the lives of three very different gay senior citizens.
Dennis is a cross-dressing widower who didn’t come out until he was 70 and is looking for love. Ravel chronicles his move from his ramshackle home in a rundown trailer park in Florida to a senior citizen LGBT residence in Portland, Ore., where he feels finally at home.
Ty is an activist in Harlem who works with SAGE (an LGBT seniors advocacy group) is in a committed relationship and hopes that his boyfriend will proprose once New York legalizes gay marriage.
Robert is the friendly, wisecracking owner and performer at the oldest surviving gay bar in Texas, Robert Lafitte’s. It’s motto is “Drag show, rain or shine.” Robert is also the patriarch of the patrons and employees.
Raval, who also teaches production and cinematography at the University of Texas Austin, will be at the screening along with his three subjects. The filmmaker recently talked about “Before You Know It” on the phone from his Austin home.
LGBT seniors have been underserved in documentaries and features.
That’s part of the reason I decided to make the film.
In the film, Dennis says, I don’t think younger people want to look at or even think of older people because it’s a reminder of what’s going to happen. I think there is some truth to that. I think we at least in the United States live in a youth-obsessed culture. There is a lot of power to being young. The idea of aging is fearful for a lot of people.
How did you find your three subjects?
Well, when I first started to make the documentary, I didn’t want to limit myself at all. I wanted to go out in the community, meet people and see who I initially gravitated toward. The very first thing I did was a lot of research.
I discovered [the senior citizen home] Rainbow Vista up in Portland, Ore. I contacted them and the general manager was super friendly and thought a documentary would be a great idea. He invited me to come up and stay there. That’s where I found Dennis. When I walked through the door, he was the first person I met and interviewed. He was just visiting to see it. I immediately gravitated toward him. I think maybe one or two months later I flew to Florida and that’s when I started filming the documentary.
Who was next?
I had heard of SAGE and discovered they had a Harlem office and was immediately intrigued because Harlem has a very rich [gay] history, but you don’t hear about gay culture anymore in Harlem.
SAGE put me in touch with Ty. He was suppose to connect me to different members of the community who could potentially be subjects for the film. But in just half a day of following him around and speaking to him, I thought Ty is an amazing person.
So is Robert.
I had heard about Galveston Island, that it was a destination place for a lot of seniors to retire to. I heard from rumors that there was a pretty vibrant [gay community] there. On a complete whim I went down there thinking this potentially could be the third story. If you talk to anyone in Galveston about gay seniors and gay bars they say Robert Lafitte’s. Within 24 hours I had met Robert and started filming him the next day.
Each man’s experience is so unique.
I feel each of the characters represents a different stage in a life.
I think of Dennis being in the stage of self-discovery: It’s very reminiscent of adolescence. Ty exemplifies mid-life concerns and for me Robert is all about legacy.
He has created these amazing things and this amazing family. But at some point there has to be these preparations for saying goodbye and making sure that everyone is taken care of when you are gone.
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