Films permit free conversations says Dr. Depassio.

 Dr. Jean-Jacques Depassio, geriatrician, works at the Hopital de Fourvière – Centre de Gérontology in Lyon. He is the organiser of the Lumière Blanche Intergenerational film Festival. I realised the first time I attended the screening that I would not be able to talk with him informally as he seemed to do everything. From choosing the films to introducing them. From welcoming the guests and chairing the discussion to preparing for the post-screening drinks and nibbles. I therefore asked him for an interview and between the screening for youth and the evening showing he allocated me some of his precious time.   

Connotations of the title. With a group of friends in a restaurant, we were discussing names and trying to find a word containing ‘âge’ (visage, telescopage etc. ) when one of us – a Canadian – came up with Lumière Blanche. Of course, Lumière Blanche for the brothers but also for the near death reports of the tunnel of white light, the colours of the spectrum merging to form white light, the white hair. To be more precise I added as subtitle ‘le temps d’un tourn’âge.

The Association of volunteers: I have had this idea for about 15 years. I talked about it to a Libération journalist to find some contacts for a project. But this did not work out. About 13 years ago I was working in a geriatric and rehabilitation centre and the cadre de santé, (supervisor) asked how it was going. Together we started the association. She introduced me to the managers of Le Lem cinema who were interested. Previously, I had the idea very well fixed and clear in my mind. I have contacts in the National Foundation of Gerontology in Paris and there was some interest there, specially from women but no cinemas could be found. There are no more independent local cinemas. The association in Lyon had more medical members then than now. They were in the medical and paramedical world: geriatrician, psychoanalyst, psychologist at the university. Now I am the only medic left and members are retired friends, people who like the cinema and people involved in community groups. From the gerontology point of view I am the only one. It is a shame because it is important for contacts with schools etc…

Aims of the Association: The same now as my initial idea: to talk about ageing through the cinema. With films as starting point things can be articulated more easily. One can say things that it is otherwise more difficult to express. Also films show different views of ageing. Ageing is not one homogenous period. Between 60 and 100 there are 40 years. It is said it is a new stage. But it is made of many heterogeneous stages. Talk about certain themes: end of life, love, sexuality. For example during the discussion after viewing 80 days women talked openly about sexuality and homosexuality. The film liberate the words. There are lots of examples. In 2003 journalists talked about lifting the taboos. 11 years later it is less and less taboo to talk about ageing but it is still a problem. For example a remark heard: Woman member of the Seniors Club of Tassin after La Tête En l’Air : why show such a film? It is not fun is it?.    Now in cinema everything is permitted. One can consider the different gaze of directors on ageing, the different attitudes in different countries and times. Ozu and families for example. This year we were caught because of the numbers of releases. Usually the Friday is dedicated to a cine club (classic old). We screened Wild Strawberries, Umberto D, La Vieille Femme Indigne, Tokyo Story.

Audiences: 5 nights and 2 afternoon screenings. The afternoons are dedicated to students. The pupils following the Bac Sciences medico social (last three years of secondary school) and nursing students. I know the schools of nursing. The contacts with secondary school teachers are due to word of mouth contacts and interest of particular teachers. There are no formal arrangements with heads. I would like to do something with young children but there are no films to show -as opposed to books for this age group- and even then there is too much red tape to get a class of youngsters to the cinema…   At the beginning when journalists talked to me they said ‘films for the aged’. But I said these films are for everybody. On the contrary these films are about ageing not for aged people. At the beginning we had an afternoon for older people. They came from the whole district and we chose a rather light-hearted film. After all they do not go to the cinema to see their decline and deaths.

We do not show films in retirement homes because usually there are cultural programmes and sometimes they do show films. It is not the aim of the Festival. We are centred at the cinema. We tried one year to outreach at the University. We screened ‘shorts’. It was a complete flop. For a screening room in a university, the sound was awful, the projector of very bad quality and on top of it all there was hardly anybody there. It was a beautiful day. The students were all out on the campus. 20 people for 2000 students. It was complicated.   But we like the idea of going to the Cinema. Even the Town Hall in Tassin does not help us very much. Because the cinema does not belong to them. They would help if we screened in their halls but they are multipurpose halls and do not give this feel of ‘going to the pictures’.

Cinema changes in representation of ageing: yes there are changes it is the changes of society. Cinema is a reflection of society and ageing has changed. There are more and more films that look at ageing and everything is shown. Less farces and stories that beat around the bush. Everything is shown. The ‘aged person’ does not mean anything. There are changes in the aged. My grandfather at 80 is not the same as my father at 80. These changes are reflected in the cinema.

Representations of disabled old people: Yes in certain kinds of films there is a certain refusal to represent the aged. There is what is called ageism. The women are beautiful and they do everything to appear young. There are lots of people who ask for this kind of film. On the other hand, the films we show represent not the sombre side of ageing but neither is there a refusal of ageing processes. We try to show films that show things as they are without being depressing. We are not here to harm people but these contradictions do exist. For example the film yesterday ‘A Simple Life’. It is just a simple life.

There are films about different stages of ageing. As geriatrician I am often asked by students at what age are we old? There is no age. One can be old at 60/70, young at 90. Nevertheless today if we need to name an age, 80-85 is the age of my patients in the geriatric services. 83 ans is the mean age of patients who consult, in wards, in short or long hospital admissions. At 83 one is more fragile and it takes little to tip the balance: a fall, a heart incident…   It is true that between 60 and 80 there are many years to live.

Home Care or Care home? (after a brief discussion on A Simple Life. In a later post.) Everybody want to stay at home with photos and souvenirs. They prefer to be isolated than be in a care home. On the other hand there are some people who initially are against care home but once settled are revived. They make connections. One should not depict the care homes as horrible where you go to die. But it is always very difficult to announce to patients that they cannot go back home. The decision is extremely difficult to make and often in discussion with the children and the family we are asked to break the news and explain that their children do not abandon them but it has become impossible for them to live at home. A problem in France that is growing is the cost of care homes. Because of economic factors, the family cannot afford a care home and the person has to live in very difficult conditions. In fact sometimes care at home is the default solution. This is a new problem and I have noticed it growing. No I have not seen Quartet. I have no time to see everything. It was well received in France and as lots of people saw it we screened this year A Song for Marion.  I was told it is idealist. But there are homes like that in France. Super luxe and extremely expensive. EHPAD (stands for Etablissement d’Hébergement  pour Personnes Agées Dépendantes). Certainly beyond the means of my patients. There are few films that achieve a certain balance. One criticises because it is too idealistic or else because old age is depicted as a horrible fate. Yesterday a woman, health worker said of the film (A Simple Life): this is a ‘mouroir’ * it does not exist anymore. Yet it does. Maybe she works in a home that is not like the one depicted. Good for her. But it does exist. To have balance in the cinema is difficult. Hoffman decided to make this film. He tells a story. One cannot tell all stories in one film. Have you seen Indian Palace?( Marigold Hotel).

Here I express my strong feelings about this film.

Yes a light hearted film. But we had a post screening discussion and invited associations to discuss the theme “how can we live differently”. We talked about intergenerational projects: students get board and lodging with an old person. They are not there as carers but just a presence. It works very well in Lyon. There are also old people’s homes situated next to nurseries. Intergenerational estates with a communal house with services and mixed age residents are being built. In Lyon like in Paris the Babayagas** have their own association for old women managing their own retirement homes. Indian Palace gave us the occasion to talk about these alternatives.

Love of films: I acquired the love of films as a student. We were the generation of cinephiles. Kurasawa, the French New Wave, Italian films. Lots of ‘art’ films were being shown in Lyon.

I did not ask for attendance figures. From my conversations with members of the audience at the Le Lem they were friends, members of the caring professions: physios, speech therapists, music therapists, and relatives of old people in care etc… There were never fewer than 120 in the audience. At the sessions for the youth the 245 seats were booked up.

*mouroir: pejorative word for places where old people go to die. Not at all the concept of palliative care of the modern hospices but rather the shelter for the dying poor and destitute.

**Babayagas: asssociation of old women who get together to plan, build and manage their own retirement homes. In London the equivalent is OWCH http://www.owch.org.uk

About rinaross

Born in 1935. MA in Film and Television Studies at the University of Westminster 1998. Studying the representation of older women in film since then.
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