When 30 women aged 67-84 from across America and around the world descend on Fall River, Massachusetts to compete in the 30th anniversary of the Ms. Senior Sweetheart Pageant, hilarity and heartbreak ensue. Under the doting attention of pageant founder and personality, Lenny "Low Price" Kaplan, these women share intimate experiences, discover new-found passions and stir lifelong insecurities that challenge common misconceptions of aging. Following four diverse competitors as they prepare for, travel to and compete in the pageant, PRETTY OLD is a profound and intimate look into what it truly means to age beautifully.
PRETTY OLD was inspired by Magnus Wennman's award-winning photojournalism displayed at the 2007 World Press Photo Exhibit in Copenhagen, Denmark. I was there visiting my girlfriend (now wife) and I had just finished looking at the war and sports photography when I stumbled into the still life exhibit. I walked around the corner and saw this majestic image that from afar looked like a photorealist painting. It was three senior women backstage at what looked like a Broadway show, and was a mixture between beautifully vivid textures of skin tones with lights and glitter intermingled with a haunting reality of aging and a clinging to a past youth. For me there was something unexplainable about it and I couldn't stop staring. I looked at the caption and all it said was "Ms. Senior Sweetheart Beauty Pageant, Fall River, Massachusetts" - I was hooked. I wanted to make those pictures come alive.
I went home, started researching and found a whole subculture of senior pageants in America. I contacted Magnus (the photographer) and he sent me the article and story he did on the pageant along with some contact details. After reading his perspective as a foreigner (he is from Sweden) I was completely intrigued and decided to personally reach out to the pageant. When I called, a man with a upbeat and extremely distinctively scratchy voice, complete with a New England accent, picked up and said "Hello, hello? Low Price Kaplan here, with the Ms. Senior Sweetheart Beauty Pageant of America "slash" International." I had met Lenny, and for the next three years immersed myself into the world of senior beauty pageants. I called in every personal and professional favor I had, spent every single dime I earned, and ended up surrounded by an amazing team of talented filmmakers, who right before my eyes, took on my intrigue and great passion for the subject and characters, and helped me creatively craft this film with the hope of brining it to an audience.
With PRETTY OLD I am trying to show people that being and growing "old" can be absolutely beautiful. This was a concept that I did not believe when I set out to make this film. At first, as I expect many audiences will do, I came to the subject from the point of view of being primarily interested in finding out what type of seniors would subject themselves to the vanity of a beauty pageant. The stereotypes of plastic surgery, cakedon makeup, and "train-wrecked" women were driving my interests to find out more. Through the making of this film I discovered, as did the subjects within, that we had similar interests, fears, desires and needs that crossed those generational boundaries. We became real friends, real family, and we laughed, cried, and learned all together. My entire perspective about what it can mean to be and grow "old" was completely flipped on its head. I want to show people how the harsh realities of aging and the purity of youth can exist together and how much knowledge can be gained from listening to and learning from one another.
Through the film, I want to open up a conversation between two generations that rarely communicate. Internationally, seniors have become an underserved and underrepresented population, especially in the media. In the past couple of years we have seen condescending documentaries and TV shows mocking seniors as out-of-touch, overtly sentimental, and childlike. We spend less time caring for and conversing with elder relatives, who are often placed in retirement homes, rather than taking care of and respecting them, as was traditionally the case. In the midst of the current global instability, my generation should ask those who have experienced similarly difficult times, questions that will provide much needed insight.
This was an independent film in the true sense of the term. I especially want to thank all of the subjects in the film for being so honest with me and allowing me full access into their personal lives. Without that, nothing can be learned. I also want to thank all of the crew who made so many personal sacrifices for the project as a whole. This film is a result and a perfect example of how the art of filmmaking, when it's at its best, is most definitely a collaborative effort.