Prime Time: Latest San Diego film festival celebrates aging with six international movies about growing older

Anthony Hopkins stars as a 68-year-old New Zealander with a dream in “The World’s Fastest Indian,” a film that will open the festival on Jan. 13 at MOPA in Balboa Park.
Anthony Hopkins stars as a 68-year-old New Zealander with a dream in “The World’s Fastest Indian,” a film that will open the festival on Jan. 13 at MOPA in Balboa Park.

By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt


It’s a new year and we’re all a year older. Appropriately, film-lovers of all ages are invited to start 2011 at the premiere of Coming of Age, San Diego’s first annual festival of movies on aging.

Hosted by the Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA) and San Diego State University’s Gerontology Student Association and sponsored by Alvarado Hospital, the festival will be showing six films from four different countries, focusing on the diversity of the experience of growing older.

On the second Thursday of each month from January through June, a different film will be introduced, screened, and followed by an audience discussion. The idea is to make gerontology — the study of psychological, social, and ethical issues of aging and their effects on the individual and society — more accessible to the community at large.

The film fest is the brainchild of SDSU gerontology professor (and chairman of the department) Mario Garrett, Ph.D. “We want to increase awareness of these issues to open a discussion,” Garrett said. “I thought cinema would be a good way to do this, and MOPA has a lovely small theater that would elevate the viewing experience.”

Last spring, Garrett assembled a group of academics and artists who work with aging populations to suggest some of their favorite films. He selected six categories of special relevance: continuing growth; dementia and care giving; new adventures; sex, love and intimacy; independence; and intergenerational relationships. Each committee member chose a category and a film to introduce.

Garrett will kick off the festival this month by introducing “The World’s Fastest Indian,” a film about a 68-year-old man and his motorbike, starring 73-year-old Oscar-winning actor Sir Anthony Hopkins.

Why this film?

“I love it,” Garrett said. “I’d love to do what he did. I have an Alfa Romeo engine sitting in pieces in my garage. I took it apart years ago, then I had kids, and work, and it’s still sitting there, in a thousand bags.

“The guy in this movie — a true story — he had a dream of racing a bike he built himself. He traveled to the other side of the world, from New Zealand to Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, without money, with a heart condition. And because he never gave up, he made his dream happen.”

Garrett, born in Malta, has followed his own dreams, traveling and working in China, Africa and Europe before making his way to the U.S. and university positions in New Mexico and Texas. He then spent a decade working with American Indian tribes before coming to SDSU. Over 50 now, he said he got into the field of gerontology at a young age, always believing he would live to be very old.

“If there’s a mantra for Coming of Aging,” Garrett said, “this is it: Being old doesn’t define a person. These films show love, exploration, racing — older people doing things their own way.”

Next up on Feb. 10 is the Swedish film, "A Song for Martin" (2001). The story follows famous composer Martin as he meets concertmaster Barbara at one of his performances and the two fall in love. After divorcing their spouses, Martin and Barbara marry and begin a happy life together.

Five years later, as the couple is working on a new opera, Martin is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. As Martin's condition worsens and his personality changes, the couple strain to hold on to the love that once brought them together.

Young and old are invited to come to Coming of Aging, and join in the post-film discussions. The screenings are free, but reservations are required.

“This is just the beginning,” Garrett said. “We hope to get bigger and better each year.”

If you go


Coming of Age: San Diego's film festival on growing older


6 p.m. Thursdays, January-June


Museum of Photographic Arts, Balboa Park


: Free, but RSVP to


On the marquee:

Jan. 13:  ‘The World's Fastest Indian’ (2005)

Feb. 10:  ‘A Song for Martin’ (2001)

March 10:  ‘Cherry Blossoms’ (2008)

April 14:  ‘Innocence’ (2001)

May 12:  ‘Harry and Tonto’ (1973)

June 9:  ‘UP’ (2009)



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