AUTUMN GOLD tells the life-affirming story of five athletes in their preparation for the Track and Field World Championships. Their toughest challenge is their age: these potential world champions are between 80 and 100. It is a competition against age and other hurdles of life. They want to stand on the podium for one last time. Who will make it to Finland? Who will fight to the bitter end? A story of winning and losing, of setbacks and triumphs. A homage to life how it can be: not smooth and wrinkle-free but full of humor and determination.
When I first heard about a track and field world championship for (very) old people, I was sceptical. 90 year olds racing the 100 metres or 85 year olds doing high jump? Would that be a serious competition or just a funny freak show event? I wanted to find out.
After a few days among the master athletes at the 2007 world championships in Italy, I had to completely rethink my perception of “old” people. There I was between men and women more then twice my age who were running, throwing and jumping as fast and high as they could, full of ambition but also humour – and I suddenly felt very old myself. The idea was born to put this enormous energy, this positive attitude into a film.
People in most Western countries are getting older and older – but also much fitter. As sport clubs are loosing members among the young ones, old people flock to the stadiums and compete in national and international championships. The numbers are growing rapidly. However, nobody seems to take notice. There is hardly any serious media coverage of these races. And if, they are mostly featured in the living section, a few lines in the back of the newspaper. Funny wrinkled people running in circles. Do the fit ones really fit?
Our picture of the silver hair generation is determined by the overall debate on the problems that come with an ageing society. Rising costs of health care, collapsing welfare systems, mercy killings. But what about the other side?
The film gives five master athletes a voice. It shows their extraordinary race against time and age as they jump, run and throw. Some are widowed, some are still living with their partners. In their long lives, they have fought many personal crises and losses, they have survived wars and other tragedies.
However, the film rarely looks back. We try to avoid this “filmmaker’s reflex” to dig out the black and white photos as soon as we deal with elderly protagonist. No, this film looks ahead just like our heroes themselves do. Perhaps that’s it what makes them so special: Although they are quite aware that they are running on the final finishing line, they still live very much in the here and now and they even have goals for the future.
When asked if he would come to the world championships in two years time, the then 98 years old Alfred Proksch laughed at me. “Young man”, he said, “at my age I don’t make plans that much ahead.” But sure enough he would train every single day so as if he’d fight in the next competition. He had this big goal, to stand in the discus ring at the age of 100, and he was doing everything to achieve his dream – well knowing that he might already be dead when the competition starts.
So yes, this film is about very old people. Loneliness, stiff necks, broken knees and the deaths of partners and friends are an issue. But the general tone is positive and life-affirming. Life will end soon – so what? Achieving a gold medal means just winning a single battle. But the clock is still ticking. As everybody is quite aware of that biological fact, there is plenty of space for a good portion of humour.
– Jan Tenhaven