‘Autumn Gold’ masters track documentary is boffo in Toronto

Jan Tenhaven’s movie about masters track — following five older folks to Lahti worlds — isn’t just a hit at the Toronto “Hot Docs” documentary film festival. It’s certifiably No. 1 with “Hot Doc” audiences. “Autumn Gold” led a popularity poll list of 20 films as of Wednesday night. And nice reviews are trickling in. “A number of us were at Tuesday night’s World Premier of Autumn Gold,” wrote Ontario Masters Track President Doug Smith. “The director, Jan, was present for a Q&A. Canadian multi-gold medalist Olga Kotelko’s WR discus throw is part of one segment. . . . Jan did a great job of capturing the personalities and motivations of these athletes. . . . I highly recommend it – two thumbs up! Ebert & Smith.” Here’s the new German trailer:

Jan is a Berliner, and the Koops’ German masters site headlined its entry: “Toronto: Standing Ovation for ‘Autumn Gold.’ ”

The Koops wrote (and I apologize for the bad translation):

January Tenhaven, director of the documentary film “Autumn Gold” A shiver ran down his back. After a half hour movie premiere of his festival contribution there was for him and his movie “standing ovation and prolonged applause. The cinema hall was 500 (!) Persons completely sold out, including many senior athletes who had enthusiastically received the film.
The film festival in Toronto is one of the most important documentary festivals in the world and is therefore a good starting basis for director Jan Tenhaven and film distribution “New Visions”. The current photo of Toronto shows the long queue outside the entrance to the film “Autumn Gold”. The film will be shown today for the second time in Canada. (06/05/2010)

A “hot pick” preview of “Herbstgold” said: “Hold on to your hip replacements and brace your funny bones! Aged 80 and up, a group of top senior track and field athletes train for the World Masters Championships, battling injury and upset in their quests for personal bests.”

Finally, here’s a review of the film by someone who got an early peek:

Toronto – “For those of you in the audience who’s not in the special club and want to know what it’s like to have children, adopt an 100 yr old man, who needs 24 hr nursing care. And then find out, gee, my life’s really changed.” So said Dana Carvey on his HBO special. Well. What if you have 100 yr old men and women who do not require oxygen cylinders or pampering? What if their lives have barely changed such that they still live as if they are 60 odd years younger? What would Dana Carvey say in that case? “Mmm. Well that’s definitely a pleasurable sensation!”

Ok. If anyone has seen that show I apologize – those two lines were taken completely out of context. But just as out of context is the name of this documentary: it should really be called Winter Gold. This is the story of 5 athletes as they journey to Lahti, Finland, for the 2009 World Masters Athletics Championships in track and field. If the average age in most developed countries is 75 to 80, then there’s nothing “autumn” about these athletes’ age. Jiri Soukup, Gabre Gabric, Herbert Liedtke, Alfred Proksch, and Ilse Pleuger, are all over 80, and some over 90 years old.

The Masters (not golf… although that comparison can be fitting…) is an age-group competition – where one competes within their own group and his/her performance is then normalized with an “age factor” so that it’s comparable to others’. Often times you might watch a documentary and think: “Oh, there’s nothing special about these people, I can _____ (insert activities like backyard wrestle, run carnivals, skydive, highrise wirewalk), too, if I wanted to”. Not here.

The film makers simply followed these men and women on their training and daily life so that the experiences can be “pre” lived by us, who will probably not have the chance. Ever. The energy of these geriatric was simply astounding. In the opening, Jiri (82), climbed 5 stories in 1 minutes and was still composed enough to dole out some wisdom on life. Gabre (94) led a group of 60 yr olds on aerobics exercise and then trained on her bike. Herbert ran the 100m sprint, Alfred still sketched nudes at 100, and Ilse danced around the living room with a broom looking/moving like she’s 45 and not 95.

It is a nice touch that Tenhaven did not make this feel like a freak show of immortals, which it easily could have been if he had focused on or even mis-emphasized these people’s idiosyncrasies (aka the style of some Japanese TV documentaries…): did they have special diets, environment control, meditation? Is there a ritual they go through daily? The answer, surprisingly, is no. These people led normal lifestyles.

If anything, the secret to longevity is there is no such secret and you should stop worrying about one. Rather, we are reminded of what happens when you live long enough – everyone and everything else dies, trees included. There were definitely moments of intense longing.

Perhaps that’s a part of the reason they enter these competitions – the need to be with peers and not feel alone. And then there’s the competitiveness that still drives these people. It’s not a small competition, either – I think there’s maybe 5000 or so competitors each year. That’s bigger than some scientific conferences.

I have mixed feelings about the slow-motion shots in this film. On one hand it allows you to see the focus and concentration on their faces, but it was also slightly melodramatic and clashed a bit with the rest of the film, when it cuts from a demure narrative to something out of the Kraken battle in the Clash of Titans. I rather enjoyed that dimmed optimism – knowing that finality is imminent and yet quietly go on living one’s life – without high drama.

You’ll have to watch to get the individual results of the competition – I’ll just close by saying that it was very cool to hear O Canada mixed-in with the credits. Watch for hilarity when The Italian shows up!

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May 7, 2010

3 Responses

  1. Sarah Raetsen - May 9, 2010

    Autumn Gold was amazing. As a not-quite-yet Masters Athlete (I’m 34 – Sacramento 2011, baby!), I was inspired by this film to continue what I’m doing in the hopes of being as spry, full of life and ambitious as these athletes.

    Jan did a great job showing the story behind these athletes and how they prepared for the “big show”.

    Of course, the footage from Lahti brought back great memories.

    Definitely two thumbs up from me.

    (Team Canada Manager, Lahti 2009)

  2. Anthony Treacher - May 10, 2010

    This trailer footage starts with Herbert Liedtke, SWE, then probably 92, on “Brutalbänken” (translation unnecessary) at the Sätra indoor track at Stockholm. I have seen it many times. We call it “Herberts paradnummer.”

    “Spry, full of life and ambitious” – you said it Sarah.

  3. Andrey anderson - March 24, 2013

    I have entered the senior olympics in southern texas 10 of the last 12 years. I have won 14 medals. I am 68 years old. I would love to be in the harvest gold at age 80 plus, something to shoot for if i live that long.

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