ABOUT THE FILM
Age of Champions is the uplifting story of five competitors who sprint, leap, and swim for gold at the National Senior Olympics. You’ll meet a 100 year-old tennis champion, 86 year-old pole vaulter, octogenarian swimmers, and rough-and-tumble basketball grandmothers who all battle to overcome the limitations of age. When one athlete loses a spouse and another is diagnosed with cancer, they’ve forced to dig even deeper to make their Olympic dreams come true. It’s a story about the triumph of the human spirit and a must-see for people of all ages.
Age of Champions premiered to a standing ovation at the prestigious Silverdocs Film Festival and has since shown in more than 300 cities around the world. The Washington Post called the film "infectiously inspiring" and its characters have been featured in major media outlets including ABC, CBS, PBS, and NPR.
THE CHARACTERSRoger Gentilhomme
100 years old
Roger is a centenarian and tennis champion from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. He’s fought through cancer, arthritis, hernias, and a recent concussion on the court. “As long as I can compete, I’m going to be out there,” he says. “As long as I live, I’m going for the gold medal!”
65+ years old
The Tigerettes are five-time women’s basketball gold medalists from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Off the court, they are charming Southern belles and caring grandmothers. On the court, they transform into winner-take-all competitors who will dive, push, and elbow their way to another title.
Bradford and John Tatum
88 and 90 years old
The Tatum brothers are swimmers from Washington, DC. As children, they learned to swim in the Reflecting Pool at the Lincoln Memorial because there were no integrated pools. They kept their passion for swimming alive until getting their chance to shine as Senior Olympians.
86 years old
Adolph is a cattle rancher, World War II veteran, and track and field athlete from Somerset, Texas. This year, he hopes to break the world record in pole vault. However, his top rival Earl Blassingame is looking to unseat him in the discus, shotput, and javelin.
88 years old
Earl is a track and field athlete from McKinney, Texas. For the past decade, he has always placed second behind fellow Texan Adolph Hoffman. But this year, he plans to upset the reigning champion and win gold.
The moment I first heard about the Senior Olympics, the proverbial lightbulb went off. The subject was perfect—diverse locations, colorful characters, exciting visual action, and a ready-made competition structure. Less than a month after that initial inspiration, our tiny crew set off for Somerset, Texas to begin shooting Age of Champions.
I believe there is a need in the popular consciousness for celebratory, patriotic, and inspiring stories about everyday people chasing a dream. The constellation of characters in Age of Champions reflects the diversity and depth of America itself—they hail from all corners of country and embody uniquely American archetypes like the cowboy, the civil rights marcher, and the Southern belle. What unites them is an unwavering conviction that the best in life still lies ahead of them. Despite the tolls of age, they are continuously striving to participate in the next competition or break the next record.
On a more fundamental level, the story of these athletes offers a perspective on the theme that interests me most—man’s pursuit of greatness in the face of death. Of course, Age of Champions has a light and whimsical tone, but the ever-present specter of death gives the film a deeper thematic mooring. To me, there is nothing more beautiful than the life-affirming spirit of people like Adolph, Bradford, and Roger. They challenge us all to buck convention and never give up in our search for greatness.
Start to finish, Age of Champions took two years to create. It was painstaking and often lonely work, but I believe what emerged is a truly handmade cinematic work. As a director, the challenge all the way through was to reconcile my creative imagination with the hard exigencies of reality. This is why I believe the documentary poses the greatest challenge of any modern form—it calls on the storyteller to create beauty through the most realistic medium art has ever known.
I hope audiences take pleasure and find inspiration in Age of Champions.
I’m Christopher Rufo, the director of AGE OF CHAMPIONS. I grew up and still live in Sacramento, California. I like to travel for both work and pleasure—I’ve been to many countries across Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America. My father is from Italy, so I try to spend a few months there every year. I think the documentary is the greatest film art form. It’s the work of the artisan, not an industrial machine. You have Dziga Vertov and family shooting and editing their own films, ditto Robert Flaherty, and even a filmmaker like James Longley doing the same thing today. This is very exciting, just to see how documentary storytelling has developed over a very short period of time. We are in a dynamic medium and there is room for new visionaries.
What inspired this film? How did you find your subjects?
A chance encounter at a nonprofit conference sparked the idea for AGE OF CHAMPIONS. We were fundraising for another project when the chief organizer of the Senior Olympics approached us. It was a light bulb moment. We scraped together a few thousand dollars and six weeks later we were traveling around the country shooting the setups for the film.
What were some of the biggest challenges/surprises?
The greatest challenge of producing AGE OF CHAMPIONS was to figure out how to weave together five separate stories into a forward-moving, dramatic feature film. It took many, many months of re-arranging the puzzle pieces to discover the final structure. There were literally tens of thousands of possible permutations, but only one correct sequence. After more than a year of editing, we think we’ve found it.
What is your proudest professional moment?
I work for a nonprofit called the Documentary Foundation and we teach high school students how to make short documentaries. This year, our first group of seniors is graduating and we’re sending students to study film at NYU, CalArts, Chapman, Loyola Marymount, Columbia College, and San Francisco State. It was a great feeling to help them along in their dream of becoming filmmakers.
What other projects are in the pipeline?
We have another project in the pipeline called DIAMOND IN THE DUNES. It’s the story of a baseball team in faraway China. It’s a really different project than AGE OF CHAMPIONS. It’s much more poetic and impressionistic, and quite a bit darker. We’re working with ITVS and are planning for a PBS broadcast in late 2012.
Why did you become a filmmaker?
I became a filmmaker by process of elimination. As a teenager, I was an avid jazz guitarist. Through college, I experimented with writing, drawing, photography, journalism, and storytelling, but nothing stuck. Film combines all of these interests. There is no more comprehensive art form—it’s truly the tenth muse.
What are some of your creative influences?
The tone of early Errol Morris, like GATES OF HEAVEN, was a reference throughout the process of making AGE OF CHAMPIONS. We were also very aware of recent films like SPELLBOUND and MAD HOT BALLROOM. They were very instructive on how to set up likable characters and follow them through a competition.
Did you go to film school?
I never went to film school. I studied philosophy, history, and literature. This is the best training—having a broad liberal arts education and appreciation for arts and culture. I agree with Werner Herzog when he says you can learn the entire technical process of filmmaking in a week. That’s the easy part. Character, drama, and story are the real challenge.
What do you shoot on?
We shot on professional HD cameras with a nice tripod and a single boom mic. Nothing fancy.
Age of Champions was produced by the Documentary Foundation, a Sacramento, California-based 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to documentary production, education, and outreach. We produce films for PBS and administer the Doc School, a documentary filmmaking course for high school students in Northern California.
Christopher Rufo, Director
Christopher is the Creative Director of the Documentary Foundation, and has directed three films for PBS: Roughing It, Diamond in the Dunes, and Age of Champions.
Keith Ochwat, Producer
Keith is the Managing Director of the Documentary Foundation, has produced all of the Foundation’s PBS projects, and administers the Doc School, a documentary production course for high school students in Northern California.
Ali Sargent, Producer Ali has directed Inside the Detroit Gang Squad and LA Street Racers for the National Geographic Channel and field produced two critically-acclaimed television series, PBS’ Circus and ABC’s Peabody Award-winning Hopkins.
Neil Cleary, Composer
Neil is a producer, studio musician, and songwriter living in Los Angeles. He has toured as a sideman with numerous bands and released three solo albums.
Rich Stewart, Designer
Richie is the Creative Director/Lead Designer of Commoner, Inc. He was born in Boston, Massachusettes.