Although queer and transgender people have been present in films since the inception of cinema back in the 19th century, the way their stories and lives have been represented on screen has often been subject to gatekeeping. As a result of stigmatization and historic prejudice against the LGBT+ community, early cinema censored and created codes like Hollywood’s own Hays Code, which forbade explicit depictions of homosexuality on film for over three decades. It wasn’t until the early 1970s to 1990s that the era of “New Queer Cinema” flourished and independent filmmakers began creating sincere and genuine LGBT+ representation. Now major streaming platforms like Netflix have categories for “Gay & Lesbian” movies and television, and locally, the Stamped LGBTQ Film Festival has been showcasing queer short films in Pensacola since 2012. Despite this thriving era of film, one population continues to be underrepresented: the elderly LGBT+ community. The Council on Aging of West Florida set out to change this with their new documentary Someone Waits For Me.
The documentary follows five senior LGBT+ people in Northwest Florida and shares their individual stories and experiences through in-depth interviews and subversive and artistic recreated scenes. The Council on Aging received funding for the documentary from a Sunday’s Child grant in 2020 and partnered with Appleyard Agency to produce the film. Someone Waits For Me is set to premiere on the weekend of October 8 at Pensacola Little Theatre and will be available to stream online after it makes its rounds in the festival circuit.
Josh Newby, Council on Aging of West Florida marketing communications director, served as the director of the documentary and explained that he hopes the film will spark a community-wide conversation about LGBT+ elders.
“We wanted to highlight this population that is very much overlooked in both the media landscape and in the conversation about LGBT+ issues,” Newby explained. “There is this notion that seniors are taken care of through social security, Medicare or their children. That is simply not the case. They are very much an invisible and vulnerable part of the population that our culture doesn’t focus on because we place such an emphasis on ability and beauty. I want this film to start a conversation around elders, who have unique challenges based on their age and physical capabilities, but also have the intersected challenges of their sexuality in a very conservative part of the country.”
This invisibility of the senior population is something that the Council on Aging wanted to capture in the documentary as they work to support and advocate for elders in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. Rather than telling the stories of these individuals, they have given them a platform to share their own stories.
“It’s the young people that go to the rallies. It’s the young people that march in the streets. It’s the young people that make the most noise. So, it’s their stories that are told. It’s not the elder who has been homebound for years and feels lonely and forgotten. That story never gets told, because frankly, no one even knows that person exists,” Newby said. “But we know that person exists because we serve that person. At Council on Aging, we go to their door every day and serve meals or clean their home and make their lives better. If we can shed a spotlight on their stories, then maybe more people will care, and it’ll enable this community to live a richer life.”
The lives and stories of LGBT+ elders are diverse, individual and cover a wide span of history. From growing up in a less tolerant time and living through violence against LGBT+ people to witnessing society change at their fingertips with the Gay Liberation Movement of the late 1960s and marriage equality in 2015. The documentary follows the narrative stories of Rick and Bill, a gay couple, Pat and Carla, a lesbian couple, and Miriam, a single lesbian. While their narratives sometimes overlap, they often contradict one another and cover topics such as religious intolerance, coming out, class privilege, loneliness, marriage, being a part of the queer community and the importance of queer spaces.
“Everyone we interviewed had such unique experiences and different perspectives on issues like prejudice, living in conservative areas and whether or not seniors should come out or remain closeted,” Newby explained. “Rick and Bill are big advocates of coming out and being true to yourself no matter how old you are, whereas Miriam took the opposite stance. Rick and Bill have been together for over 30 years, and they waited to get married until the Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage for the entire country, while Pat and Carla were the opposite and went to New York to get married. There wasn’t this monolithic gay experience.”
Each interview in the film is separated into three mini- films within the documentary. Part of showcasing these diverse experiences includes weaving in elements of fantasy, magical realism and dream spaces to illustrate the stories being narrated in background of the film. As the filming took place in the midst of COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions, where they couldn’t film the couples on a date or out on the town, Newby explained that they relied on these artistic and abstract scenes to create a nontraditional documentary.
For Miriam, who is Puerto Rican and grew up in New York with a Catholic upbringing, her interview grapples with her experiences of being unaccepted at her Catholic school but finding refuge in the queer underground clubs in Brooklyn. As she narrates her experiences, you can see a young girl walking through a church, clutching a cross necklace, as club music suddenly starts booming through the walls and drag queens appear in full-glam garb dancing in the church. For Pat and Carla, who met at a dive bar and told stories about lesbian bars, feminist poetry and the importance of having intimate queer spaces where they can feel safe and be themselves, the scene literally transforms on the screen from a dive bar to a luscious lesbian bar.
“We couldn’t go back in time to these clubs in Brooklyn that changed over to gay bars at a certain hour of night or this dive bar where Pat and Carla met. We had to recreate those spaces, infusing them with the sentiments, desires and sort of forbidden, taboo culture that was so prevalent back then. These scenes really emphasize how these characters were feeling and the emotions that were evoked as they told their stories,” Newby said.
The first screening of the film will premiere in Pensacola on the weekend of November 12 at Pensacola Little Theatre. Someone Waits For Me will also be available to stream online after it finishes its rounds in the film festival circuit. Visit facebook.com/coawfla for more information on the premiere and future streaming platforms.
“Society has written off both seniors and the gay community for far too long. I hope this film raises awareness about those who are living in the closet, living out of the closet or are living somewhere in between and showcases how we as a community can make their lives better,” Newby said.