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Present Perfect: A documentary film by Evan Briggs
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With neither past nor future in common, what do relationships that exist entirely in the present look like?
Present Perfect explores the very real experience of aging in America- both growing up, and growing old. It was filmed in a preschool housed completely within a retirement home, powerfully capturing the subtleties and complexities of the young children's interactions with the elderly residents, while challenging us to consider what we're doing- and what we’re not- to prepare future generations for what’s to come. What value does a person have to others throughout their life? Are we asking for the right contributions from each other? How do we measure and define a successful life? While this film doesn't shy away from confronting some difficult realities, it is ultimately a life-affirming story of hope and the power of human connection at any age.
MORE ABOUT THIS FILM
The inspiration for Present Perfect stemmed from a longstanding desire to explore the experience of aging in America. As a filmmaker, I’m drawn to simple, subtle stories that provide a framework for much bigger ideas, stories that promote reflection, revealing new layers of complexity that ultimately expand our way of thinking about a particular topic and even, perhaps, our entire world view. I love films that really make you think- and not just in the moment, but for days, weeks, even months following. After spending a few days observing the residents and kids at The Mount, I knew this was one of those stories.
Stepping into most any nursing home, it’s hard to ignore the sense of isolation one feels on behalf of the residents living there, and even harder to reconcile that with the fact that old age will inevitably come for us all. In our fast-paced, youth-obsessed culture, we don't want to be reminded of our own mortality. It’s easier to look away.
When I heard about the Mount and its Intergenerational Learning Center, I was struck by the simple perfection of the concept. I was further intrigued by the idea that with neither past nor future in common, the relationships between the children and the residents exist entirely in the present. Despite the difference in their years, their entire sense of time seems more closely aligned. As busy, frazzled, perpetually multi-tasking adults, we are always admonished to live ‘in the moment’. But what does that mean? And with the endless distractions provided by our smart phones and numerous other devices, how can we? I was curious to observe these two groups, occupying opposite ends of the life spectrum, to see firsthand what it meant for them to simply be present with each other.
Shooting this film and embedding myself in the nursing home environment also allowed me to see with new eyes just how generationally segregated we’ve become as a society. And getting to know so many of the amazing residents of the Mount really highlighted the tremendous loss this is- for us all. Over the course of the months I was filming at the Mount, I observed many incredible exchanges between residents and kids. Some were sweet, some awkward, some funny- all of them poignant and heartbreakingly real. One experience in particular occurred during a morning visit between the toddler classroom and several residents who had gathered to sing songs together. Everyone had just finished a rendition of “You Are My Sunshine” when one of the residents began to share a memory he had of singing that very same song late at night on a bus full of soldiers while serving overseas during World War II.
The clarity with which this gentleman recalled this era of his life so many years ago was breathtaking- the memory seeming to appear before his eyes as he spoke. And though the kids were too young to understand his words, the fact that their presence provided a catalyst for his recollection just seemed to fit in a ‘circle of life’ kind of way. I’ve reflected on that moment many times since- it was beautiful and profound, and I was grateful to have been there to witness it. Those small, quiet moments are often the ones that contain the most meaning, and sadly are also the ones that most of us are too busy and distracted in our day-to-day lives to notice.
This is a film about the very young and the very old, yes. But it’s also about something bigger, something harder to pin down, but so essential in every way. In the words of Susan Bosak, founder of the Legacy Project, “It’s the experience of life in a multigenerational, interdependent, richly complex community that, more than anything else, teaches us how to be human.”
PROJECT STATUS AND GOALS
Present Perfect was filmed at the Providence Mount Saint Vincent retirement home in West Seattle, WA, also home to to the Intergenerational Learning Center, over the course of the 2012-2013 school year. For the first three years, this entire project was a labor of love, funded almost entirely out of my own pocket. I invested in new camera and audio equipment so that I could function as a one-woman crew, I paid babysitters to watch my kids so that I could shoot three times a week for the entire school year, and I've spent countless hours applying for grants and pitching this film to as many people as possible. I've gladly taken all of this on because of how strongly I believe in the power of this story and its potential impact.
In June 2015, we launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $50,000. The Kickstarter took off and we ended up raising over $100,000 as well as receiving tons of press coverage from all over the world! This was amazing, but we still need to raise more money to complete the film. We have moved into the editing phase and hope to release the film in early 2017. To receive updates, please sign up for our newsletter using the form above and follow Present Perfect on Facebook. Thanks so much for your support!