This is Mark- the guy to the right. It was a genuine pleasure to chat with Mark. He seems to be one of those real, empathic film makers who work passionately to dignify diverse personalities through film (and is willing to travel the world and live off a suitcase to do it). How to Live Forever, like the rest of his documentaries, stems from a hugely personal time in his life. And, well, what’s the use in us trying to convey the message of the movie when there’s a perfectly good trailer that does it so much better than we ever could?
Can you tell me about the “A-ha” moment when you realized that you wanted to make this film?
When I turned 50 my mom passed away and soon thereafter, my AARP card arrived in the mail and it got me thinking “Hmm, maybe there’s a way to tack more time in. Maybe there’s a way to extend my life, maybe add a whole new chapter to my life or chapters.” So I have a lot of things I want to do and I thought there might be a way to add more time so that set me out on this journey all over the world, initially talking to scientists about how one might extend one’s life. And then it sort of opened up into talking to a variety of people from philosophers to scientists to centenarians, all sorts of different people about how they’re living long and ways that I can live longer. You know, calorie restrictors- the gamut.
I started out the film thinking that I would talk to scientists who would tell me to eat more blueberries, take these supplements and that would give you x amount of years, etc. And I got to talking to people. One of the takeaways from the movie is that it’s not only the length of one’s life but also the quality of living and being able to appreciate it– I think it’s equally important as adding years. So I do still want more years but that may not be the primary goal at this point.
How did you map out your course of documenting the world’s oldest people? How did you know where to start?
At first I knew I wanted to go to the longevity hotspots of the world and I knew one was probably Okinawa, Japan. And I knew that Iceland male life expectancy was long. And there were basically several characters around the world; a guy I filmed named Buster was a 101 year old marathon runner, who was smoking several cigarettes a day and drinking beer still. So I was looking for unusual and quirky characters and my journey around the world involved talking to these centenarians who were unusual for living a long time. So not only was there the longevity hot spots in the world, but the characters, the people– that’s what brought me all over the place.
How long was your journey for?
It took me about 4 years in total to make the film. Some of that, maybe a year and a half in the editing room. And you know, I was cruising the internet, I was talking to people a lot, I would interview someone and ask if they knew someone who knew about calorie restriction and they’d refer me to someone else. There were a lot of referrals but also research, which I love. A lot of it had to be researched well otherwise I’d go halfway across the world and if things didn’t happen exactly the way I wanted, that would have been a very expensive mistake.
Not everyone we filmed got into the movie, unfortunately, but the movie will have a great extra section just because there are so many interesting characters. We interviewed a 90 year old surgeon who is still performing heart surgery, we interviewed a guy who still flies kites at 100 years old (above) — he builds these amazing kites and still flies them. These are all quite interesting characters who, I think, shared a great sense of humor; the glass is always half full; they have a very positive outlook on life. It was so inspirational to be around these people to be in their presence and they have a sort of inner serenity that is very appealing. I had a great time making the movie because I got to be around these people.
It’s clear that the inspiration for your documentaries hugely stem from your personal experiences and values – I think that takes a very special kind of courage. After making How to Live Forever, what are your conclusions about life extension and the world’s pursuit of youth and vigor?
We come from a youth-obsessed culture and I think that’s one of the things I love about Japan, especially Okinawa– elders are really worshipped there and I think there’s a lot to learn from older people. I would love to live longer but I also I want to live well.
I think all the worry about living longer may age me quicker than just enjoying what I have now. I think there are technologies right around the corner that will extend life significantly and that will affect all of society and I think that’s very exciting to realize. But I think there may be consequences good and bad that we can’t imagine that will affect our world, everyone’s world. I also think that as a baby boomer, all of us are interested in packing in more, living longer.
What would you like the audience to come away with?
The subject of aging can be difficult- but most people came away with feeling uplifted and optimistic about where they are in the life cycle so I was happy to impart that to audiences. I hope the movie is thought-provoking and entertaining — it’s also a particularly funny movie. So I was happy to be able to do that. I think having a purpose in life is really key. In Japan there is this thing called Ikigai which is a reason to get up and do your thing– I think that’s key and I think that’s something to nurture. I think we lose that. In Western culture a lot of people retire early and they lose their purpose. And that purpose doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have a job- you know, it can be a hobby that keeps one interested in life. I think people who retire often feel rudderless and that of course affects their health and longevity.
I didn’t expect young people to be interested in the movie- I honestly thought it would only interest baby boomers, people beyond their 40s. But I was surprised to see that young people really enjoyed it, were into it, and I’m pleased by that.
At first I worried that Methuselah Foundation was just all about the numbers- you know, just being alive as long as one can – but I’m glad to know that it’s about having the best quality of life for as long as one can.
So make sure to pre-order your DVDs so you won’t miss out on this awesome documentary– it releases on August 23rd!