QUEER VOICES
10/19/2013 07:53 am ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

PJ Raval, Documentary Filmmaker, Talks About 'Before You Know It'

"BEFORE YOU KNOW IT" is a feature-length documentary that examines the lives and experiences of three elderly members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and their place with the larger spectrum of LGBT identities. The film has already completed production and has been showcased in some capacity on an international scale.

Now, PJ Raval and the "BEFORE YOU KNOW IT" production team are attempting to bring their film to theaters in order to bring visibility to "a film about generational trailblazers who have surmounted prejudice and defied expectation to form communities of strength, renewal and camaraderie –- whether these communities be affable senior living facilities, lively activist enclaves or wacky queer bars brimming with glittered trinkets and colorful drag queens."

In a sense, the film attempts to highlight a new understanding and framework of elderly LGBT identity -- one very different from the gloomy and depressing image many people often tend to have.

PJ Raval chatted with The Huffington Post this week to talk about the future of this project, what it really means to be elderly and LGBT and the value the film itself holds for elderly LGBT individuals.

The Huffington Post: What was the inspiration behind "BEFORE YOU KNOW IT"? Why do you think it project is important?
PJ Raval: The inspiration behind “BEFORE YOU KNOW IT” primarily came from conversations I started having with my mother about her getting older and the changes that occur mentally, physically, financially -- even emotionally when you start being identified as a member of the senior population. There's a shift in perception from larger society that results in one being treated differently… These conversations made me think a lot about my own life as someone who's part of the LGBT community no longer in the youth category and in fact somewhere in the middle, obviously moving towards one end of the spectrum. Within my own limited lifetime I’ve seen an enormous amount of change in the world and within myself.

All of this started making me think about how the current LGBT senior population has seen an enormous amount of change in their lifetime. Born pre-Civil Rights, they have lived through Stonewall, the sexual revolution, the AIDS crisis, all the way to DOMA being struck down, RuPaul and "Modern Family." They are arguably the living proof of what has been referred to as the Gay Civil Rights Movement. They do remember a less supportive past because they lived through it and are a result of it -– for better or for worse. I decided to start researching the topic and discovered some pretty startling statistics -- that LGBT seniors are twice as likely to live alone with many struggling with isolation issues. Many are afraid to access social services for fear of being abused and discriminated… The estimated four million LGBT seniors in the United States over the age of 55 were not all in NYC or San Francisco as a visible and out community. In fact, many were married trying to repress their true identity in fear of discrimination, or worse, physical harm. Many were struggling to create their own communities in small conservative towns despite local opposition, and many were simply trying to figure out as an LGBT person if they could live a life full of love and partnership. We, in the LGBT community, have rightfully placed much attention on providing support for our youth community but have we placed equal attention to those who are equally vulnerable on the opposite end of the spectrum -- our senior population?

Let's talk ageism in the LGBT community -- how has it affected the participants in the film and how to they experience or perceive ageism specifically in terms of LGBT identity?
Ageism applies to everyone, not just seniors. When you're younger you fight to be taken seriously as an independent thinker, when you're an adult you can no longer hide behind the naivety of youth and are expected to act with certainty and conviction, but when you're a senior it seems society begins to treat you as if you have no more value to the community –- you are past your prime. There's a misconception that your experiences are limited and everything is behind you, nothing ahead of you, when in fact people are constantly growing, learning, and adapting to changes in the world. That's true of any age including the senior population.

We live in a youth-obsessed culture and the gay community is equally, if not more, guilty of this. We’ve learned to equate “gay” with images of young, shirtless, ripped abs men. Gay identity has become synonymous with being sexually desired. It no longer becomes about sexual identity of the self, but instead becomes about physical desirability from others, which is unfortunate. So I do feel the LGBT seniors have an extra challenge ahead of them because they are essentially being repressed by societal expectations after having spent a large portion of their life trying to express themselves.

Do you think the younger generation of LGBT individuals has a responsibility to change perception or provide visibility surrounding what it really means to be an LGBT senior citizen?
I think the younger LGBT generation needs to recognize they too will become part of an LGBT senior population. The aging process is inevitable and perhaps should be embraced rather than feared. So much of ignoring the senior community is a product of not wanting to imagine oneself as being treated and perceived as a disempowered individual. But LGBT folks are not estranged to this challenge and they've grown up aware of bigotry, homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, all the "isms" one encounters when being perceived as being someone outside the norm, but they should also be aware of ageism as it applies to them as well. They need to add ageism to the list and one way to do this is to include the senior populations to the larger group and, as always, combat the "isms" with visibility and support for a diverse LGBT community. Power in numbers. Power in a community.

Talk to us about the film's progress up until this point -- where has it been and what has it accomplished?
We world premiered the film in Austin, Texas, at the SXSW Film Festival this past March. Much to our delight, after the screening ended and the lights came up, the subjects of the film, along with the entire crew, were met with a standing ovation from a visibly-moved audience. It was truly a special moment to see an audience of all types of young/old, black/white, gay/straight people responding to the stories of these three gay seniors. Since then we’ve been screening at various film festivals around the world, including the Edinburgh Film Festival, Outfest in Los Angeles, we even screened in Russia last month amidst the controversial anti-gay propaganda laws. We’ve been selected as the opening night film for Denver Q Fest and even won “Best Documentary” at the Dallas Asian Film Festival.

What are you hoping to achieve with these Kickstarter funds?
We’re hoping to raise enough money to make the film available to any one anywhere. It sounds like a lot of money (and trust me it really is) but in the scope of the film industry it’s really not much compared to other film screening budgets. The challenging part of raising money through Kickstarter is that if we don’t reach our goal we don’t receive any of the money. So it’s a big risk but that’s what independent filmmakers such as myself have to take on right now. There’s a not a whole lot of other alternatives. It’s very hard for independent films to be able to screen for audiences outside of film festivals (which is difficult enough) and even more so if it a documentary and even more so if it’s gay. Many film industry people are afraid to support gay documentaries because they don’t believe it will speak to a general audience. We’re hoping to challenge that misconception by raising our own funds and launching our own screening series because this is not what we have experienced having screened this film across the world to date. People will watch what’s being offered to them, so we need to make sure what’s offered to them represents all stories, not just ones we think they want. As filmmakers, we have to be able to rely on audiences to want to see the film, so hopefully they recognize their donations also physically make that happen.

For more on "BEFORE YOU KNOW IT" or to contribute to getting the project into theaters, visit the film's Kickstarter page.

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