Documentary: Old People Driving chronicles the adventures of 96-year-old Milton and 99-year-old Herbert
Old People Driving chronicles the adventures of 96-year-old Milton and 99-year-old Herbert as they confront the end of their driving years. The film follows Herbert as he takes his last drive, hands over his keys and comes to terms with the reality of life without a car. Milton, meanwhile, continues to drive every day and vows to do so until he feels he’s no longer safe on the road. Through their stories, and a review of the latest traffic safety research, the film dispels some of the myths about elderly drivers without shying away from the fact that many will outlive their ability to drive safely. Old People Driving has screened at film festivals around the country and has received awards including Best Short Documentary at the Phoenix Film Festival and theMargaret and William Hearst Award for Excellence in Documentary Film. It was broadcast on PBS as part of the NewsHour/Economist Film Project and is distributed to the educational market by New Day Films.
Shaleece Haas' 'Old People Driving' documentary
Shaleece Haas heard her grandfather tell the stories for years.
How Milton Cavalli first drove a car, at age 9, in the 1920s. How he worked hard stacking wood to buy a car from an uncle at age 13. How the yellow Studebaker he drove across country, decades later, was mistaken for a cab when Cavalli tried to pick up Haas' grandmother at a hotel in New York.
"I've been listening to these stories since I was a kid," Haas says. "When it came time to make my film, I already knew there was this richness of driving lore that he had and I wanted to capture in some way - along with the broader issue that is affecting so many families."
Should very elderly citizens be allowed to continue to drive? That issue is at the center of the short film "Old People Driving," and so is Cavalli. Haas documented her 97-year-old grandfather and 99-year-old Herbert Bauer as they struggled with the decision about whether they were too old to continue driving. In the film, Haas accompanies Bauer on his final spin as a driver. Cavalli, who owns three Model T's and a Saxon, is still behind the wheel.
Haas, an Oakland resident who grew up in Mountain View, chose the subject in part because of the conversations taking place in her own family. She quickly realized that with a growing elderly population, more and more families are bound to find themselves having similar discussions in the next few years. "Old People Driving" is entertaining, but it's also meant to help families have these sometimes difficult conversations.
"It externalizes the conversation, so it's not about telling a loved one, 'I don't like your driving,' " Haas says. "I would very much like to see the film used in that way - as a conversation starter, not only in families, but with caregivers and in senior centers."
The film has reached an even broader group than that. In addition to screenings including film festivals in Mill Valley and Los Angeles, last month "Old People Driving" was featured at the National Transportation Safety Board symposium on safety, mobility and aging drivers in Washington, D.C. Among other upcoming screenings, it will be shown at the American Society on Aging conference in San Francisco in March.
Haas, an experienced photojournalist who started the project while completing the documentary film program at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, sells the DVD at www.oldpeopledrivingmovie.com - with a sliding scale based on whether the film is being used for home, community or educational/library use.
The subject matter in the 25-minute movie is often serious - the recorded words from an elderly driver shortly after he killed 10 people in Santa Monica are particularly sobering. But Haas balances the facts and figures with humor (there's a short clip from "South Park") and a wealth of wonderfully heartfelt scenes involving Bauer and Cavalli.
25 years melt away
During a recent interview with Haas and Cavalli at his home in Redwood City, it's easy to see why family members have cautiously accepted his decision to keep driving. Cavalli is very sharp - a strong storyteller and great listener. When he gets behind the wheel of his Model T and turns the engine on, his eyes light up, as if 25 years have melted away.
"My driver's license is good until I'm 100," Cavalli says. "So I'll drive as long as I can do it, and when I feel like I can't, I'll quit. ... I don't want to jeopardize anyone - myself or anyone else."
When discussing the issue with family, Haas says they consider the safety of others, but also factor in the ramifications for her grandfather if he was told he couldn't drive any more.
"My mom and I struggle with that question," she says. "The (decision) would hasten the end of his life."
That's one unifying theme in "Old People Driving": While each high-profile accident produces a clamor from the public to take away licenses from older drivers, the issue is complicated. The other take-away here is that "the discussion" is frequently not a one-time event, regardless of the decision. If it's decided that an elderly family member is still a safe driver, that doesn't mean the decision shouldn't be revisited later on.
The content of the documentary seems to support Bauer's decision to sell his car and buy a three-wheeled bike. But in her research, Haas says that the safety statistics for older drivers was much better than she expected. DMV statistics presented in the documentary show that the youngest demographic of drivers is many times more likely to get in a serious accident than the oldest.
"I realized I had a lot of preconceived ideas that were incorrect," Haas says.
Nevertheless, she says, her opinions about her grandfather continue to fluctuate. During a photo shoot, when he pulls his car out into the street and drives away, Haas visibly flinches.
"Never in human history have we had this many older people and this many older people on the road," Haas says. "It's a discussion that needs to happen - in our family, and probably in yours as well."
For more information about the "Old People Driving" film, including information about purchasing a copy, go to www.oldpeopledrivingmovie.com.
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Runtime: 24 minutes
Subtitled for the hearing impaired