Documentary 'Some Kind Of Heaven' Showcases The Struggle For Happiness In America's Largest Retirement Community
Lance Oppenheim makes films about people struggling to find community in an isolating world — from airline employees who live in Los Angeles International Airport parking lots to people living on cruise ships.
His latest film explores life inside The Villages, America’s largest retirement community and self-described “Disney World for Retirees” in Central Florida. There are over 120,000 residents who partake in what seemingly is a utopian version of retired life.
However, Some Kind of Heaven focuses on a group of residents — a married couple, a widow and a bachelor — who are struggling to find happiness in this dedicated paradise. Oppenheim’s documentary offers a different look on aging and finding meaning in every stage of life.
“I just noticed this thing that I really connected with which was the whole point of returning to your youth, the whole point of moving to The Villages is to kind of get closer to maybe who you once were,” he explains.
That emotional struggle to rekindle feelings and experiences from the past in the latter half of life in this community, which is meant to create the façade of a utopia, is what interested Oppenheim. He says stories about The Villages often aim to make fun of the absurd parts of the age-restricted retirement community, but he wanted to try and humanize the people living there.
“I was much more interested consistently of just trying to find ways to deepen and find that more humanistic and authentic way to push past the plastic wrapped veneer of the place and find something truly authentic and emotional,” he says.
Oppenheim says in general in the U.S., stories about older people often leave out their humanity and that The Villages exists because a generation of older Americans felt left out of society.
“The reason The Villages exists is because we pushed aside and pushed away the elderly from our society. They don’t really have a place to go,” he says. “I really wanted to make a film that wasn’t about elderly people, I wanted to make a film that was about people because I think ultimately that’s how mostly everyone in this film sees themself. They don’t see themself as an 83-year-old, they see themselves as they were when they were in their 20s.”
Oppenheim says he wonders whether The Villages will continue to adapt and try to sell nostalgia to more generations as they age or if the Florida community will slowly fade. The 25-year-old says right now he doesn’t see himself retiring to a community like The Villages citing his desire to live around people of different ages but admits his mind may change.
He hopes that people will watch Some Kind of Heaven and take away the fact that the key to finding happiness in life is knowing that there may never be an answer to what makes you the happiest, but searching for answers to the question is what brings happiness.
Some Kind of Heaven screened at the Milwaukee Film Festival in May and is now available to stream online.