Israeli filmmaker makes ‘invisible years’ clearer

Gideon Boaz: I believe that the biological family is closer to their gay son [in Israel] than in the US.As Gideon Boaz crept closer to 40, he started asking questions. ‘What about retirement planning? How do my peers live their …

Gideon Boaz: I believe that the biological family is closer to their gay son [in Israel] than in the US.As Gideon Boaz crept closer to 40, he started asking questions. ‘What about retirement planning? How do my peers live their lives? What commonalities exist among people who are aging?’

In pursuit of the answers, the Tel Aviv/New York photographer decided to direct a short documentary film – a project that brought exposure and results beyond his expectations.

“The seed was planted when I was living in San Francisco. Each Wednesday night a group of friends met at one person’s house and we would order a pizza and share a bottle of wine; it was the closest thing you get to a Friday night dinner there,” Boaz told ISRAEL21c.

But it wasn’t biological family. Gay men in their 40s, they were unmarried, childless and focused on career paths. When Boaz moved to New York and began contemplating a Master’s degree project, his thoughts returned to the weekly gatherings.

“One thing I thought about working on the film was that heterosexual couples tend to fall into a different track: They go to school, get married, have babies, save for children and build their economic futures to build a legacy.

“But what do gay men do?” Boaz posed. “Do they save at the age of 30 for retirement? Do they spend all the money they’ve made? How do they structure their financial vision? Do they plan for later?”

The culmination of Boaz’s questioning came via his film (In)Visible Years, a compilation of interviews presenting thoughts and personal stories relating to issues mature gay men face in today’s society.

Six very different subjects speak on camera about identity, prejudice, rejection, connection and of navigating and negotiating the social, mental and physical changes they experience in life.

There’s 50-something Jeff who adopted a child with his long-time partner in order to “leave a legacy”, versus 62-year-old “single and always looking” Harvey who has never experienced love.

Internationally acclaimed photographer Duane Michals – 46 years with his partner – swears up a storm and breaks the illusion of sexuality and youth. “Sex is wonderful but if you’re 60 and that’s all? Too bad,” Michals tells the camera.

But a common thread that arose among interviewees during filming was unexpected.

“All of the men without exception spoke of being invisible. Of being unseen or not being there,” Boaz said. “That’s where the name of the film came from. I was looking for other more optimistic titles but I couldn’t look the other way. It was the proverbial elephant in the room.”

Film subject Keith, HIV positive for decades and living with a long-term partner, confirms that notion. Viewers are introduced to still images of a younger, model-esque Keith while he shares memories of the promiscuity-laden AIDS era. He then pauses as a painful expression crosses his face. “I’m not adjusted to being invisible,” he admits.

When the film began screening worldwide and gaining international attention, Boaz discovered another common thread. “Many, many women who watched the film said the same thing: ‘After 40 we become invisible. Nobody looks at us.’ A lot of people identified with the theme which I was happy to discover. It has universality.”

Boaz’s personal journey brought him back to Israel after he completed the project to be closer to his own family: his father, a sister and her three children.

In terms of the Israel’s aging gay population, he sees similarities, differences and universal themes as compared to the New York and other scenes.

“Things in Israel are a lot tougher for an elderly gay man,” Boaz said. “Most say it’s harsher in terms of how the younger crowd treats them, their place in society and social outlets.”

On the other hand, biological families in Israel tend to play a more significant role in people’s lives. People are geographically closer so while a person in the States might see his parents twice a year, in Israel visits are weekly. “I believe that the biological family is closer to their gay son here than in the US,” Boaz commented.

Boaz also discovered that in Israel – as in the US or almost anywhere these days – the Internet has changed the face of dating. “Cruising parks” for dates has become passe in lieu of searching for dates online and, within the space of an hour, meeting up for drinks or coffee.

Boaz is currently documenting the life of Israeli boxing champion Merchav Mohar (‘Sergeant’) and has been approached about making an Israeli version of (In)Visible Years.

Did he find universal answers to questions about how gay versus heterosexual populations age?

“I was pleasantly surprised. The stereotype of the dirty old gay man or the poor old gay man living alone wasn’t there,” Boaz said. “Every one of the characters adapted a different strategy for aging. I didn’t ask about money and savings because it’s personal. But clearly some had it and some saved; with others it was questionable.

“But here’s my bottom line: The kids who are 30 years old, if they have their shit together then they’ll have it together in their 60s and 70s. If you have a positive attitude to life in your 20s, 30s and 40s you’ll have a positive attitude to life in your 70s and 80s. And the opposite is also true. Regardless of sexual orientation, you ultimately lie in the bed you have made.”

(In)Visible Years is currently on the International Film Festival circuit and has played in Brazil, Los Angeles, Canada, Israel and to a sold-out house at New York’s Lincoln Center Walter Reade Theater.

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