Fil-Am-directed film tackles gay aging population

Fil-Am-directed film tackles gay aging population

‘Before You Know It’ New York Premiere At Lincoln Center

On the eve of NYC Pride Week, a film called ‘Before You Know It’ directed by Filipino-American PJ Raval, gets its New York premiere at the Lincoln Center. This inspiring documentary takes the viewers into the lives of three senior citizens who are gay. What is captured are human portraits of lives from LGBT community that are not often seen on-screen.

Named one of Out Magazine’s “Out 100 2010” and Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 new faces of independent film 2006,” PJ Raval is an award-winning filmmaker whose credits include Trinidad (Winner, Best Documentary Cleveland International Film Festival 2009, Showtime, LOGO) and The CHRISTEENE video collection (SXSW).

He was featured on the pages of Asian Journal’s Galing Pinoy section back in 2008 after his film (where he worked as a cinematographer) reaped awards and critical acclaim from critics nationwide, including the Grand Jury Prize at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.

“Those were fun times,” he told me over iced coffee in midtown earlier this week. “That experience brought me from Sundance to the Oscars. I never really thought I’d be doing it in the first place. That whole process was a life-changing experience for me.”

Also an award-winning cinematographer, Raval’s work has earned him awards such as the ASC Charles B. Lang Jr. Heritage Award as well as the Haskell Wexler Award for Best Cinematography. Raval’s work includes the 2009 Academy Award-nominated Trouble The Water, as well as the Independent Spirit Award-nominated Room. He recently completed the highly anticipated feature The Bounceback directed by Bryan Poyser, which will premiere at SXSW.

All those awards and recognitions are just bonuses, specially considering that Raval did not dream of becoming a film director when he was growing up.

As an art major back in college at UC San Diego, he ran out of photography classes to take so he looked around for possible options. He considered doing the 16-mm black-and-white film classes and met a wonderful professor Babette Mangolte who would become one of his mentors.

“I took this one class and it was awful, in the sense that everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. I didn’t understand the process, my camera kept jamming, my film came back and it wasn’t exposed correctly. I finished the class under her and finished a film that I was happy with but then I was thinking ‘This is not for me’,” Raval shared.

Mangolte signed him up for her other class and told him to stick with film-making.

He eventually moved on to graduate school at UT Austin and dabbled more into the science and art of creating movies. His classmates would ask him to shoot their films because they saw that he had the eye.

Through these years, he was able to shoot a lot of short films, including his first feature called ‘Room’, which got him a nomination at the Independent Spirit Awards. There was no turning back.

Before You Know It

Raval, born in Princeton, New Jersey and raised in Central California, is ready to tackle subject matters that are not usually focused on by other film-makers.

Before You Know It is the first feature film to raise the curtain on a profoundly neglected segment of the LGBT community, its senior population.This observational documentary addresses issues that aren’t often discussed in the LGBT community.

The statistics are startling (e.g., LGBT seniors are five times less likely to access social services than their heterosexual counterparts and twice as likely to live alone).  The film acquaints audiences with three individuals who live these abstract and disheartening numbers.

Dennis is a widower who did not identify as gay until his 70s. The newest resident at Portland’s LGBT senior living facility, Rainbow Vista, Dennis tentatively explores his “new” identity and penchant for dressing in women’s clothing under the name “Dee.” Ty is a seasoned LGBT activist who passionately leads the Harlem division of SAGE (Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders) and yearns for a life of legally-sanctioned matrimony with his partner Stanton. Robert is the owner of Robert’s Laffite, a Galveston, TX neighborhood bar that caters to gay seniors. Robert struggles to retain the legacy of his community bar when confronted with legal troubles and his own failing health. While these men are all seniors, in a sense, each are at different stages in life. Dennis’s sexual/gender awakenings conjure adolescence, Ty’s preoccupation with marriage and “settling down” are stereotypical mid-life concerns and Robert’s waning health and investment in Laffite’s legacy signify old age.

“The inspiration behind Before You Know It can be traced back to 2008,” states Raval. “When I was touring with my last film Trinidad, screenwriter Ron Nyswaner was kind enough to organize a reception for the film at the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Center in Kingston. At the reception there happened to be a large amount of seniors present and surprisingly enough they were gay seniors. At that moment I realized how little I’d seen or heard of them as a community, and I started to question why?”

“I eventually went around the room and spoke to many of them thanking them for the reception.” Raval adds.  “In return they shared personal stories with me ranging anywhere from living many years being in the closet, or witnessing a large portion of their community die off during the AIDS crisis, or even grappling with the fact they’ve lived long enough to see gay marriage getting legalized in certain states. I realized, this particular group of people had seen such a large amount of change during their lifetime.  I wondered if younger generations were aware of the experiences these seniors had lived through. I was fascinated with how both age groups were on opposite sides of the spectrum yet in the same LGBT community. I thought about how much the youth could learn from hearing the seniors’ stories and how the seniors’ stories are so unique and need to be captured now before they disappear.”

(Before You Know It had its world premiere at the 2013 SXSW Film Festival, where audiences praised it for its cinematography and sincere portrayal of such heartfelt characters. The film will screen at Film Society of Lincoln Center, on Sunday June 23rd at 5:00 PM. Director Raval will participate in a filmmaker Q&A to follow the film.) 

(NYNJ June 21, 2013 LifeEASTyle Magazine pg.2)

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