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New film challenges what it means to grow old

Producer hopes to change perceptions with frank look at ageing 
ADMIRABLE SUBJECTS: Production crew for the documentary Hip to be Old [from left] Paul Galinski, videographer, Kathleen O’Neil, producer, and Peter Harvey, videographer and editor, are proud of the video production they have created that shows a different side of ageing.

Everyone gets old, but for Kathleen O’Neil, producer of the documentary Hip to be Old, it’s people’s attitudes towards ageing that need to change, and she hopes to accomplish that with her film.

“It's about being valued,” said O’Neil. “It's cool to be who you are, wherever you are, whatever age you are, whatever life path you're on. That kind of attitude isn’t common today.”

Filmed in Powell River, the film’s subjects were chosen because they were people the production crew admired.

“People with a rich life, a rich inner life with connections to other people in their communities, they're doing things that matter to them,” said O’Neil. “All our interviews show powerful portraits of human beings.”

People were asked questions around four themes: attitudes towards ageing, the lowdown on sex, future plans and advice for the next generation.

O’Neil got the idea for her documentary as part of her work as the director of programs and research at Powell River Educational Services Society. Her manager asked her to write a grant application for the New Horizons for Seniors Program, with a focus on seniors and technology.

After some research, O’Neil began to see that society perceives ageing as a disease to cure rather than a natural process. She went back to her manager and pitched an idea for a documentary, one that showed a different view of ageing.

Ironically, a film about the value of older generations was a difficult sell. O’Neil constantly fought limiting ideas about what older adults’ lives look like in order to convince those both inside and outside the project of the idea’s legitimacy.

O’Neil teamed up with Peter Harvey and Paul Galinski to help create the film. Both Harvey and Galinski were skeptical at first, but the trio, all over 60 years of age, managed the project from start to finish, from selecting subjects and interviewing to technical aspects like filming, editing, and lighting. Everyone involved in the project, from O’Neil’s manager to Harvey and Galinski, are proud of the final film. 

However, once production wrapped and O’Neil sent out a media release announcing the film, it was radio silence. No one showed interest in covering the film.

O’Neil wasn’t really surprised. After all, the film opens with  subjects answering the question, “Do you think we value older people in our society?” The first person answers with a nonchalant “No.”

O’Neil thinks there’s fear around ageing and a sort of disinterest in and disconnect from our future selves.

“It's seen as kind of moral failure to get older,” said O’Neil. “But if you don't die young, you're going to be old one day, too.”

She hopes the film will show people that ageing is a beautiful new beginning, not an end.

“I'm trying to say hey, it's something to look forward to, not to fear,” said O’Neil. “Ageing is about really coming into your own.”

Hip to be Old will premiere at the Patricia Theatre next month, with dates and ticket prices announced in early September. To find out more about the film and watch the trailer, go to