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Issues of Aging Curated Video Collection

Community Programming
Around The Issues Of Aging


Community Programming Around The Issues Of Aging

The public library service to the aged that we emphasize with this issue of VideoCuration: Constructing Library Core Collections, based on the National Media Owl Award, began with film programs in 1946 when the Cleveland Public Library in Ohio announced its "Live Long & Like It Library Club" focusing on the problems of the aging. With a 16-mm projector and a small deposit film collection given them by a Settlement House, Cleveland librarians added film programs to the list of library services. The appeal and value of motion pictures as entertainment and information were immediately apparent. In two years, the library's film collection grew to 400 titles, and in the following decades scores of libraries, inspired by Cleveland, built film collections and some began special programs for elderly patrons. In the 1970s a California library supported by the Older Americans Act reported that of all their programs, "Films were the most popular."

The 1980s brought the video revolution when the VCR and VHS replaced the projector and film as the audiovisual medium of choice. Feature films frequently replaced documentaries and short films in the library's AV collection. Today, AV circulation is overwhelmingly centered on the individual, but the Issues of Aging collection represents an opportunity to revive service to organizations.

These Owl Award titles, most with public performance rights, may be shown to individuals and groups in the library and loaned for community programs, workshops and education without fear of copyright infringement. With public performance, libraries can be partners with human service organizations in their area. The library, by becoming a materials resource center, can supply these organizations with visual material for public education and staff training and in return ask for their support of the library.
If theses prospective partners are already spending money for rentals or buying a few tapes for their own use, they may welcome an opportunity to increase available titles by contributing to a video purchase fund, benefiting from the Library Media Project special consortium prices. Such groups can help themselves and the library by co-sponsoring programs, by using these videos in staff training, by encouraging their clients to borrow helpful material, and by publicizing the collection in their newsletters. The Office of the Aging in counties and states is a good source of information on organizations serving the elderly locally.

Owl Award winners tell us what being old is all about. Some are wonderful films about old folks who are active, productive, and living and working right through their eighties. There are titles about family stress, as the once dominant generation becomes dependent. Several titles cover health problems requiring long-term care and others cover the long term care policies of America's health system, its benefits and its shortcomings. We learn about choices we have at the end of life and the experience of dying. There is information for the newly retired and for the aged; information for caregivers, social workers, family members, and yes, the police, and there is entertainment for all ages.

There are documentaries and short films by America's preeminent Independent filmmakers, as well as evidence of exuberant new talent. The collection includes Frederick Wiseman's probing Near Death, Sweeney's humorous My Mother Married Wilbur Stump, the prize winning Riding the Rails, and many others.

Library programmers might showcase a series of related works. We know that a large percentage of all reference questions concern health. A series on health problems of the elderly with local experts leading a discussion following the screening could find a ready audience. Some titles,
Osteoporosis: An Aging Process, and Check it Out, (a work on prostate cancer giving alternate treatments, cure rates, and prevention techniques); Senior Focus: Brain Attacks - All About Strokes; and Senior Focus: Breast Cancer in Women (1 and 2) are carefully done, easily understood and conscientious in their coverage of the subject.

Several titles on Alzheimer's Disease, shown in the library's cooperation with caregiver support groups, could be offered for the public or for the professional caregiving community in a location of their choice or in the library.
An Alzheimer's Story and Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter chart the course of this disease from diagnosis to placement in a nursing home. Both films show mothers and daughters maintaining affectionate and even humorous relationships, though the mothers, with decades of experience eroded by the disease, have no memory of their daughters.

Grace, a longer and more intimate study of Alzheimer's was made over a period of years. Viewers see Grace's anguish as the disease takes away her functions and her care absorbs more and more of her husband's life until at last, unable to speak and needing all the care of an infant, Grace is placed in a nursing home.

Early onset Alzheimer's Disease can affect the middle-aged.
Losing it All: The Reality of Alzheimer's Disease is about the lives of several such victims. It is difficult to watch these unmitigated family disasters, but watching them could create understanding and empathy if used in training prospective caregivers.

Mother's Keeper, only six minutes long, is an excellent discussion starter for support groups and a good film for aging individuals to see while considering options for custodial care, should the need arise. In My Mother, My Father, four families are involved in deciding on custodial care for their parents. It is a helpful work for anyone facing a similar decision.

Can't Afford to Grow Old and The Cost of Caring are about money and our health care system. The audience learns that Medicare and private insurance pay a very small percentage of long-term health-care costs and that state administered programs like New York's Medicaid, essentially welfare programs, require patients to "spend down" to qualify for enrollment. A recent League of Women Voters survey concluded that capturing citizens' voices and energy is crucial to the reform of the health care system and that the biggest problem with Medicare is the dissemination of information. These well-researched and topical works are made to get the information out. Their availability to concerned groups would be an act of truly meritorious outreach library service.

Final Choices examines the ethical dilemmas created when medical technology makes resurrections routine. A durable power of attorney signed with the individuals choice of "No Life Support," "All Possible Life Support," or their special instructions is a way to avoid unwanted treatment and to receive treatment one elects to have.

Nurses and doctors struggle to save the lives of patients
in Beth Israel's Intensive Care Unit in Near Death, a six-hour documentary by Frederick Wiseman. We watch this struggle and we are there as well when staff members struggle to convey the truth of the patient's condition to the patient and his family. The work poses questions: "When should treatment be given?" "When should treatment be withheld?" "Who should make these decisions?" "What are the limits of medical knowledge?" The film serves as a background to discussion.

Being Here Now: A Journey through Death and Dying, concerns Elsie, a seventy-three-year-old divorced woman with two daughters, when her flu-like symptoms are diagnosed as cancer and she learns she has two years to live, and Ed, who at fifty-seven, is diagnosed with leukemia. While she can, Elsie spends "quality time" with her daughters. Ed, living with his girlfriend, spends his last year, "Learning to live fully with what I do have." The film is a gift to the aging; to those who wonder, "What's it going to be like?" and, even, "How will I act?"

Social agencies, bar associations and police departments dealing with elder abuse may want to program relevant titles in the Issues of Aging collection, for example, Elder Abuse, Elder Abuse and Neglect in the Family, I'd Rather Be Home, and A Safer Place. The first two titles were designed for use by California Law Enforcement personnel, but their usefulness doesn't stop at that state line. Elder Abuse and Neglect in the Family shows abusive incidents and gives guidelines for law enforcement personnel and social workers in dealing with the abused. The right of people to make choices, even when the choice involves remaining in the abusive situation, is emphasized. I'd Rather be Home is the story of Norman, a mild-mannered retiree reluctant to take legal action against an abusive son. Norman hopes for change until a severe beating lands him in the hospital under state guardianship. The American Bar Association Commission on Legal Problems of the Elderly has structured their curriculum for judges and court staff around this "powerful and effective teaching tool."

In A Safer Place, an abuser's courage in telling her story can, if the film is widely seen, inspire others to seek the help they need as they attempt to deal with an intolerable situation. As Louise Blalock of the Hartford Public Library comments:

Although libraries by themselves cannot solve community and societal problems, they can contribute to the solutions. [from "Listen, Learn, Link," Community and Libraries: A Dialogue, Libraries for the Future, 1998]

Not all works on the elderly are as somber or disturbing. The biographies are vital stories of lives well lived and can be used in a variety of library or agency programs. Recommend them to patrons who like history, who want to see a good film, and to environmental groups, for Black History Programs, etc. Dorothy Molter: Living in Boundary Waters conveys the satisfactions of a life lived close to nature. Evelyn Williams, a descendant of runaway slaves, received her education with the help of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs and at eighty is an indefatigable environmental activist. Lady of the Glades is the story of Marjorie Stoneham Douglas, the founder of Friends of the Everglades. A magnificent speaker, she targeted the Florida legislature and won several substantial victories, resigning her office at age 100.

Two films in this collection were made by filmmakers seeking to learn more about their fathers. In both, a son is determined to find out about his father, and the father is a somewhat unwilling participant.
Nobody's Business by Alan Berliner is brilliant as a film, witty and wise as it deals with the taciturn parent who, a friend tells the filmmaker, his son, lives for the interviews he professes to disdain. In the Tao of the Dumpster, the outrageous father of a conservative son decided it didn't make sense to spend his life doing things he didn't want to do. Instead of a regular job, his day now begins locating food in a dumpster, then on to something he enjoys, building a sailboat.

The themes of love, marriage, and sexuality are dealt with in this collection. As a group, or individually, the titles included are ideal for programming and discussion. A library might schedule several short works for a Valentine's Day event. Others could be used in agency counseling situations for young brides and grooms or for couples with particular needs.

A Thousand Tomorrows: Intimacy, Sexuality, and Alzheimer's four couples talk with a social worker about the changes Alzheimer's Disease has made in their intimate relationships. The story of each couple is allowed to develop before moving on to the next and each story is different. Intimacy has ended for one husband and wife. The wife, disturbed because "he doesn't really know who I am," still has "those feelings," but resists them. "I feel I would be taking advantage of someone." Talking with another couple, the social worker asks, "What is it like to have Alzheimer's Disease?" and she answers, "It's very frustrating." She is aware of her failures: once a wonderful wife, now she burns everything or forgets ingredients. Her husband says, "Our love for each other is stronger now...we'll make it as great as we can make it today. If we have a hundred tomorrows or a thousand tomorrows, we'll make them just as meaningful, too." This careful work covers a subject often difficult for caregivers and their spouses to discuss. Couples in similar circumstances, social workers, support groups, and the health community will find the information helpful and will be able to use this title.

Making concerned professionals aware of useful titles may spark word-of-mouth buzz and create new patrons as the community's knowledge of the library's resources increases. A multi-media list of titles on Alzheimer's Disease in addition to videos from the collection, might include John Bayley's short book, Elegy for Iris, an account of his marriage to novelist Iris Murdoch, an Alzheimer's victim. (NY Times, Book Review, 12/20/98). See also The Complete Guide to Alzheimer Proofing Your Home by Mark L. Warner, ("strongly recommended" in a Library Journal Review 10/15/98).

For Better or For Worse is the story of five couples, now in their seventies and eighties, who tell how they met and how they stayed together all those years. A gay couple explains, "...almost from the beginning we didn't want to think we were ever going to leave each other." Not all marriages are made in heaven and The Wash is the story of an unhappy couple. From the beginning the husband suspected his wife of being unfaithful. When he finally reveals his unwarranted suspicions, it is too late. This impeccably constructed film is rich in knowledge of Japanese-American life and family relationships.

Romance triumphs in
My Man Bovanne, a stylish short film based on a story by Toni Cade Bambara. While her upwardly mobile Black children plot school district election politics, Momma uses the party they are giving and the music to begin a romance with Mr. Bovanne and to proclaim her right to independence.

A sassy new neighbor transforms
Shine. In the film Shine, the title character has a dog and a social life centered around gossip sessions at neighborhood wakes when an irascible woman moves next door. "She's a mean old coot, Harry," he tells a friend, "but there's life in her." He invites her to dinner.

Young at Heart (New Dimension Media, Inc.) is the true story of a romance between a couple in their eighties, their wedding, and their expectations of a future together. My Mother Married Wilbur Stump is Skip Sweeney's affectionate reprise of his family's reaction when his mother, a recent widow, married a cocktail bar piano player.

Some of the best Independent documentaries are part of this Issues of Aging collection in VideoCuration and would be useful for individual viewing or for groups looking to program material. Patrons who have seen Ira Wahl's Best Boy will be able to resume their acquaintance with Philly, Wahl's slightly retarded cousin, now a group home resident and at seventy, happy, fit, and active.
Best Man: 'Best Boy' and All of us Twenty Years Later continues the story of Philly, who at seventy, has his bar mitzvah.
Breaking Silence: The Story of the Sisters at DeSales Heights tells what happens when a nunnery is forced to close. Minnie Black's Gourd Band is a wonderfully engaging tape on a folk artist: a real good-time film. The Chemo Paintings is the moving story of a woman who used painting to reveal her feelings about the cancer that threatened her life. Roam Sweet Home and Loners on Wheels, two titles today's seniors will find completely enjoyable, are about people who spend their retirement on wheels. In Troublesome Creek: A Midwestern, one generation leaves the farm and another begins life there. Programming any of these on a wintry afternoon would win accolades for the library. Needless to say, the titles in Issues of Aging work well in any season. @

From the Curator's Corner: Evaluating for Programming Possibilites

What is a good film for an elderly audience? The content can't be something readily available by manipulating the remote for the VCR. There must be something more. Select a film that can be the basis of a good discussion. Look for a local angle and a discussion leader to bring it out. Does the work affirm the life experience of people in their seventies and eighties? Is it, for example, set in the Depression, World War II, the Big Band Era? Does the film have something to say about problems the elderly face? Does it comment on illness, dependency, reduced income, lack of occupation, the health care system? Is the content intelligently presented? If the film's language is meant to be American English, is it clearly spoken?

The presentation should be flawless, with good color and good sound. The chairs must be comfortable. The program should have the enthusiastic support of all library staff who have contact with the public. Include choices everyone likes such as humor, and music with a beat.

An Issues of Aging personal favorite? Cecelia Condit's
Not a Jealous Bone and its mordant ditties with the unforgettable line "You are dead, but I am still alive!"

-- Jean Haynes

aging topics | a-z film list | links and resources | supplemental books
cinema classics DVD | visual arts | health | contact us | home

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