A man in shorts and dark knee socks walks outside to take out the garbage and returns with yesterday’s newspaper, and morning begins again in Kings Point, a condominium community in Delray Beach, Fla., now the subject of a new film.
The half-hour documentary film opens with black-and-white footage of New York City neighborhoods in the 1970s — “You didn’t go out on the streets at night,” a retiree narrates in an unmistakable accent of the boroughs — and then shifts to Florida at that time, still in black and white, and then to full color: pink buildings, green lawns and sturdy palm trees.
“People ran away,” the narrator continues. “Anybody that had a job and made a living could move to Kings Point,” he says, adding that people lined up with their down payment checks. Leaving family behind, they headed to their first- or second-floor (“less insects”) condominiums, with dreams of the good life.
Gilman, whose grandmother was a resident of Kings Point for 30 years, spent 10 years working on the documentary. The filmmaker had been visiting the place since she was a child and early on was captivated by the light, the scenery, the talk.
She focuses on five Kings Point residents, following their daily lives and conversations, interviewing them about serious concerns. For many viewers, the click of the mah jong tiles, the line dancing, the accents, the teased-and-sprayed hairdos immediately evoke a time and place. But this film isn’t a caricature of early-bird dining, or Jerry Seinfeld describing his father’s signature white shoes and belt. Rather, it’s a look at the darker side of life in the Sunshine State, at very real concerns about aging and relationships.
“You’re alone but you’re not alone at Kings Point,” one of the many widows explains, as they talk about possibilities of loving again after losing a spouse, being abandoned by coupled friends after a loss and, still, how they keep up enjoying their lives.
Now in their later golden years and living longer than they anticipated, they are facing sickness and death with a lot more frequency, and the rules of friendship are changed. Mollie says matter-of-factly, “Self-preservation is No. 1.”
Gilman, who grew up in Great Neck, L.I., and now lives in San Francisco, says, “In the end, I saw myself in all the characters. I’ve been Gert, calling someone on a Saturday night and saying I’ve got nothing to do, how about coming over. I’ve been Bea, who’s trying to get something from some guy and she’s never going to get what she wants.”
The word Jewish isn’t mentioned in the film, but it’s clear from their mannerisms and life experiences that the women are Jewish. The man who is also on camera a lot, Frank, is not Jewish; he was one of a handful of Italians living in Kings Point, Gilman says.
She explains that the landscape upon which the film plays out is a Jewish one, but that these are not exclusively Jewish experiences or emotions. Rather, she presents questions faced universally.
“I didn’t take the approach of a journalist. I’m not trying to show every aspect of life at Kings Point. I’m trying to tell a story. I wanted to convey the feeling I had when I was there,” she says. Pressed to put that feeling into words, she continues, “It’s that tension between the sunny promise and the kind of darker reality.” Listening to people’s conversations, she often didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
“Kings Point” is Gilman’s directorial debut and is dedicated to the memory of her late grandmother. Gilman has been a documentary film editor for 15 years and was nominated earlier for an Emmy for Picture Editing. In addition to the Oscar nomination, “Kings Point” won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Short Film at the Silverdocs Documentary Festival and Best Short at the International Documentary Association Awards.
Beautifully shot, sometimes shockingly honest and with touches of humor too, “Kings Point” is one piece of Florida chapter’s in the contemporary American Jewish story.
“Kings Point” will be shown on HBO on March 11 (9 p.m.), March 14 (9 a.m.), March 16 (9:30 a.m.), March 19 (1:30 a.m., 11 p.m.), March 22 (4:30 p.m.) and March 24 (6:15 p.m.), and on HBO@ on March 13 at 8 p.m., March 23 at 7:35 a.m., and March 26 (5:40 a.m.).