Older, wiser, faster 

Extreme Seniors pokes fun at grey-hair stereotype and celebrates seniors who put athletes half their age to shame

click to enlarge No Scooters, Just Skis Lisa Fernandez's film Extreme Seniors discovers and celebrates Whistler's fountain of youth.
  • No Scooters, Just Skis Lisa Fernandez's film Extreme Seniors discovers and celebrates Whistler's fountain of youth.

What: Whistler Film Festival

What: Opening Gala: Whistler Stories

When: Thursday,

Where: Telus Conference Centre

Tickets: $25

Filmmaker Lisa Fernandez tears down Whistler Mountain in a Snow Limo with movie camera in hand. The makeshift “dolly” sled can barely keep up with its subject, ski instructor Russ White. Fernandez can’t even get his students into the frame with him because the group can’t keep up.

Not bad when considering both Fernandez and the students are half White’s age.

White, at 86, is Whistler’s oldest ski instructor and one of the three characters starring in the short film Extreme Seniors, screening Thursday, Nov. 29 at 8 p.m. at the Telus Conference Centre as part of the Whistler Film Festival’s Opening Gala celebrations.

“I realized, wow, these guys put me to shame a little bit,” said the thirty-something filmmaker. “They are trucking along and I’m huffing and puffing up these hikes. They really put a lot of younger people to shame. It’s pretty inspiring. One of the things that this film made me see is that the future is really bright, not scary. The whole idea of getting old — if you retire, you just have more time to play.”

Extreme Seniors challenges the stereotype of bingo playing and scooter riding seniors, with Whistler’s grey-haired athletes riding everything from skis and mountain bikes to eight-hour-long hiking trails.

Audiences will fly down powder with White, trek up hill with 75-year-old Norma Butt and tackle Whistler’s most gnarly mountain bike trails with 68-year-old Dale Reynolds.

“Norma is amazing; she keeps up with all her grand kids doing all kinds of sports,” Fernandez said. “Why I chose these three was not just because of their age and active lifestyle, but because they are really fun and charismatic characters and they crack me up.”

Like so many of Fernandez’s films — she has been a Filmmaker Showdown finalist with the film The Mating Rituals of the Whistler Mountain Cougar and co-produced The First To Go Down as part of the Whistler Stories series — she uses humour to make her point. In Extreme Seniors , a fictitious documentary film crew searches out this “new species” of seniors to unlock the secret of their fountain of youth.

“This idea that the film crew is looking for a magic pill or something in the water that would explain why these people of a certain age seem so youthful, is where the humour comes into it,” she said. “The idea is to be inspired, to be active at any age.”

As Butt says: “If you use it, you won’t lose it.”

Extreme Seniors is one of four short films produced by the Whistler Stories filmmaking-commissioning program. Each year, the festival funds four $5,000 short film projects based on stories around Whistler. The other three film projects for 2007 include Whistler’s Snowboard History by Lenny Rubenovitch, Binty by Armen Evrensel and Journey To The Rainbow by Graem Luis.

The Whistler Stories short films will screen at the beginning of the Opening Gala, followed by a feature presentation of the film, Days of Darkness.

Advance $25 tickets are now on sale by visiting the festival box office located in the Blackcomb Lodge. They are also available at whistlerfilmfestival.com or by calling 1-877-913-FILM (3456).

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