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About 5% of older adults live in retirement communities in the United States. What’s life like behind the gates of retirement communities? Filmmaker Lance Oppenheim looks at life in The Villages, a retirement community in Florida with 130,000 residents, in his new documentary Some Kind of Heaven.
- How he came up with the idea for the film
- How he selected the four main characters
- The arc of the stories that unfolded in the documentary
- His thoughts on what the film says about aging in America today
- The lessons younger generations can take away from the film
- The level of intergenerational relationships he observed
- One of his earlier short films – The Happiest Guy in the World
- What’s next for him
Lance Oppenheim joins us from Los Angeles.
Lance Oppenheim is a filmmaker from South Florida.
Lance was a 2019 Sundance Ignite Fellow, named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film 2019,” and is the youngest contributor to The New York Times Op-Docs. He was featured on Variety’s “Power of Young Hollywood” list in 2020.
He graduated from Harvard University’s Visual and Environmental Studies program in 2019.
His first feature, SOME KIND OF HEAVEN, premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. The film was produced by Darren Aronofsky, The New York Times (the paper’s first feature film production), and the Los Angeles Media Fund. It will be distributed by Magnolia Pictures in 2021.
On Grower Older
“…when you’re in a world like The Villages that does have this radiant optimism – and sometimes it does feel a little bit manufactured – this kind of artificial construction, the way people were spending their time. I very much connected and empathized with the stories of folks who found themselves at odds with the ethos of the community. And I found that to be relatable if you’re in a place where everyone is having the best time of their lives and you’re not having the best time of your life, but you’re constantly being told that you need to be having the best time of your life.
And you have this ticking clock in the back of your head, that’s telling you ‘I only have maybe 20, 30, more years of life to live’ that will do something to you. And that’s a really distressing and stressful and confusing feeling. And that was something ultimately that I wanted to make a film about. It was not a movie that was more concerned with statistics or information. I wanted to make something that was far more expressive about this kind of existential condition that I was interested in and saw quite a bit of throughout my time there.”
On What Attracts People to Retirement Communities
“I think we all have our own ways of living inside of bubbles, whether it be people my age [or older adults]. I live in a total bubble in many different ways. The people I spend my time with, the articles I read online, the things I do in my digital life is not dissimilar from the ways in which residents of The Villages choose to unplug – and live in a place where everyone has more or less imaginative beliefs, ideas and ways of living. I think I also relate to and I understand why it’s so wildly popular. There really aren’t a lot of places like The Villages that exist that do give you that many opportunities to just kind of find yourself again and be whoever you want to be.”
On Intergenerational Relationships
“We haven’t figured out how to more naturally allow for these kinds of relationships to blossom between those who are younger and those who are older. It’s a shame that I think in some ways, the reason that we have places like The Villages, and the reason why they’re so popular, is because we don’t have any alternatives where elderly folks can go where they don’t feel invisible. I think that was a common theme that I was hearing from so many people who felt like they were no longer interested in appearing invisible to people who had more or less ageist viewpoints on who they were. So it’s a shame. And it’s obvious there are some very interesting kinds of phenomenons that are happening now. And I’ve heard about experiments, social experiments, where college campuses are creating little spaces now for elderly residents and to try and foster those kinds of intergenerational relationships. And I think that’s really fascinating. And I would be curious to see how that works.”
For More on Lance Oppenheim & Some Kind Of Heaven
The Happiest Guy in the World (10-minute short film – The New York Times Op-Docs)
Heaven on Earth? A New Documentary Looks at Life in The Villages – Next Avenue
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Retirement Planning Includes Getting Good at Getting Older – Rabbi Laura Geller
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