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Film studies age issues: Documentary features Fargo woman

Filmmaker Nina Gilden Seavey says baby boomers have always prided themselves on being ahead of the curve. From the anti-war movement of the 1960s to the human potential movement of the 1970s to the go-go economy of the 1980s and 1990s, the genera...

Filmmaker Nina Gilden Seavey says baby boomers have always prided themselves on being ahead of the curve.

From the anti-war movement of the 1960s to the human potential movement of the 1970s to the go-go economy of the 1980s and 1990s, the generation born after World War II has viewed itself as setting the cultural agenda, says Seavey, at 48, a baby boomer herself.

The first baby boomers - those born in 1945 - are on the cusp of retirement and Seavey says they'll change that from a time of leisure to a time of reinvention.

"I do think the paradigm about aging in this country will shift," Seavey says in a telephone interview from her Washington, D.C., home. "I think it is inevitable because we were driven by our own self-perception and our need to feel good about that self-perception."

Seavey's latest project, a PBS television show called "The Open Road" that deals with that very issue, will return to Fargo today as part of a town hall meeting at the Fargo Theatre aimed at discussing what retirement will mean to baby boomers and how they will change it.


"The Open Road" actually premiered at this year's Fargo Film Festival, opening the event and garnering the festival's Prairie Spirit Award, which goes to a film reflecting this region's strength of character.

The film has a local tie; one of its subjects is Helen Glawe, a retired teacher who lives in Fargo and mentors a Bosnian couple.

"The Open Road" began showing on PBS stations this month. Prairie Public Television in Fargo will show it at 8 p.m. Thursday and again at 2 a.m. Saturday.

Tonight's Fargo event is one of the first of 17 nationwide that will be held in connection with screenings of the documentary.

The documentary tells the stories of several retirees, from a 58-year-old Washington Post columnist who was part of a company-wide buyout to a 49-year-old factory worker - the youngest retiree shown - to Glawe who, at 92, is the oldest person shown.

Some, like the columnist, worry about how they will fill their time productively. An older taxi driver talks about how he had no choice but to work during his retirement. Glawe is shown working with the Bosnian couple, the teacher in her oozing from every pore.

Seavey says the goal of the film is "to spur a nationwide dialogue." It was conceived and funded by the Atlantic Philanthropy, which wanted to undertake a national outreach effort on retirement issues. The organization approached Seavey, who won a 1998 Emmy for a documentary on polio, to run the project. It cost about $700,000 to produce the film and another $250,000 for community outreach efforts like the town meetings, Seavey says.

She says she doesn't make public-affairs or advocacy documentaries and "it took me some considerable time to figure out how to handle this subject matter in such a way that I felt people could understand what are the issues at hand - social, cultural, economic, policy." But it was important to her that "the film also had some heart. This probably is the most difficult film of my career."


She ended up locating individual subjects who could reflect such diverse issues as the mourning that comes with the end of a career; the uncertainty over what will come; the economic imperatives of retirement; and the new directions retirees can take while still drawing on their work experience.

"You need to find those people who can articulate their stories," she says.

As a member of the generation she was depicting, making the film was personal for Seavey.

"We all believe, as I always have, that (we're) never going to get old," she says. "The idea of doing a film about aging for me was a certain kind of acceptance I wasn't willing to engage in" before.

Seavey says the subject's importance can be summed up in a single statistic: By 2020, 35 states will each have the number of older people that Florida does now. People often think of Florida as an old person's state, but "what happens when two-thirds of the country looks just like that?"

And the social changes will be driven by economic changes, since baby boomers will continue to have money to spend, she says.

To Seavey, the film itself is less important than the town meetings. "The film's worth will be measured by how much discussion it sparks," she says.

Michelle McRae, who administers a grant from Catholic Health Initiatives that pays for the Retired Seniors Volunteer Program here - which helped connect Glawe with Seavey - echoes that hope, saying she wants elected officials and others concerned with the elderly to attend tonight's event.


"We think the kinds of things you see in the movie are going to trigger off some responses," she says.

Comment cards seeking solutions to retirees' social, cultural and economic issues will be collected at the meeting. Those will be sent with local delegates to a White House Conference on Aging in December, McRae says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tom Pantera at (701) 241-5541

If you go

What: Showing of "The Open Road" and town hall meeting to discuss retirement issues for the baby boom generation, hosted by former North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer and Yvonne Condell of AARP

When: 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. today

Where: Fargo Theatre

Admission: Free


Information: (701) 237-4700 or (701) 298-7762

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