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The Cuban, directed by Sergio Navarretta, is the opening night feature of Toronto’s inaugural Silver Scene Film Festival.

S.N.A.P. Films

Not only does music have charms that soothe a savage breast, it also tickles the brain’s dorsolateral frontal cortex. We learn that in The Cuban, a lovely Canadian-made drama starring Louis Gossett Jr. as a former Cuban jazz guitarist who suffers from vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s. When a young nursing home worker sings and spins records for him, he emerges bright-eyed and smiling from his drug-induced catatonia, coming to life in a Latin rhythm reverie.

The Cuban, directed by Sergio Navarretta, is the opening night feature of Toronto’s inaugural Silver Scene Film Festival. The event was invented by 94-year-old Sylvia Lustgarten (daughter of the Canadian Yiddish poet Y. Y. Segal) to create awareness about ageism and to illuminate the challenges faced by the elderly.

Seniors in Canada are a rapidly growing segment of the population, and are living longer than ever. In 2014, according to government statistics, more than six million Canadians were aged 65 or older, representing 15.6 per cent of the population. By 2030, seniors will number more than 9.5 million and make up 23 per cent of Canadians.

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The Silver Scene films aren’t chosen simply to appeal to an aging demographic. The key to the festival is that its content is also meant for younger audiences, especially medical students, nursing students and social service workers.

“These are people who expect at some point in their career to be interacting with older adults,” festival executive director Judy Gladstone says. “We want them to confront whatever internal biases they might not realize they have.”

Because of restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will take place online, free of charge. The Cuban (along with the 1971 drama Harold and Maude and the 2011 documentary Gen Silent, which follows six seniors who have to decide whether to hide their sexuality while navigating the health care system) will be available in Ontario only. (The Cuban can be bought or rented starting this weekend.)

All Silver Scene screenings will be followed by online discussions. For The Cuban, Gossett Jr. will join director Navarretta in a moderated chat. On Friday afternoon, a dialogue with distinguished Canadian filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin hosted by actor Charles Bender will be watchable worldwide.

“We don’t want to just show films,” Gladstone says. “We want to use them as catalysts for conversations and we want to reach out to different generations.”

In that way, Silver Scene takes after the European Film Festival for Generations, Europe’s biggest festival about – and for – older people.

The Cuban, like 2020 TIFF films Falling and The Father, deals with dementia and care for seniors. It’s a hot-button topic given the revelations involving long-term care homes staffed by overwhelmed workers during the current coronavirus crisis.

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“We, as a society, have a bias toward the elderly, that they’re somehow considered expendable," Gladstone says. “That’s the conversation we want to be having with this festival.”

The inaugural Silver Scene Film Festival takes place from Nov. 5 to 7, at silverscenes.org.

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