Keith Ochwat admits that he and his Documentary Foundation partner, Christopher Rufo, both 27-year-old Sacramento natives, learned a lot in the making of "Age of Champions," their new film about Senior Olympics athletes.
"A lot of people my age have this preconceived notion of aging and what older people are capable of and their role in society," said Ochwat. "Our film shatters those notions.
"I initially thought, 'Do these people really compete? Are they really that physically active?' They're not just good athletes for their age they're good athletes. We thought that level of activity wasn't possible. A lot of people our age think that."
And then Ochwat and Rufo met the Tigerettes, a women's basketball team from Louisiana whose youngest member is in her mid-60s, and watched them mix it up during games. The women make sure their hair and nails are nicely done before competitions, courtesy of their team stylist, but on the court, they're tough.
"People have complex feelings about the Tigerettes," said Ochwat. "The women are physical, and they're tough. Is it really OK for women that age to throw an elbow during a game? They compete as athletes."
The filmmakers also introduce their audience to a 100-year-old tennis champion, a pair of track competitors in their 80s and two brothers in their 90s who win gold medals in swimming competitions, despite the fact that one of them is battling advanced-stage colon cancer.
"Age of Champions" has its Sacramento premiere May 21 at the Crest Theatre. The free event, with welcoming remarks from Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles, begins with a reception at 5:30 p.m. and includes a expert panel on health and aging after the screening.
The documentary, which debuted last summer at the Silverdocs Film Festival outside Washington, D.C., has had more than 500 screenings at senior centers, nursing facilities and aging conferences across the country. The Documentary Foundation's outreach campaign aims for another 3,000 screenings over the next year, said Ochwat.
More than 300,000 athletes age 50 and older compete every other year in the Summer National Senior Games, also known as the Senior Olympics. The most recent national competition was held last summer in Houston. The documentary focuses on the 2009 national games, hosted by Stanford University.
"A lot of older people think their life is behind them," said Ochwat. "They only talk about the past. It's sad when you meet older people who don't have a motivating force.
"For these senior athletes, training is a reason to get up and be active. They have something to look forward to."
Ochwat and Rufo's first documentary was "Roughing It: Mongolia," a 30-minute film for PBS and Sacramento's public television station, KVIE. Their next documentary, "Diamond in the Dunes," centers on fighting racism against the Chinese Uighur minority through playing baseball.
To request tickets for the Sacramento screening of "Age of Champions," go to www.ageofchampions.org or call (916) 456-5229, ext. 4.