Las Vegas Sun

September 2, 2014

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Vegas seniors refuse to grow old

Another movie has been made about people who live in Las Vegas, and it touches on all the obvious topics that help define vibrant, beautiful people - sex, being buff, dancing.

But this particular film, a documentary, features Las Vegans in their 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s.

And they say the film, soon to be released with the title "Off the Rocker," is a breath of fresh air - a relief from films that portray the elderly as decrepit fossils waiting to die.

Precisely, says the film's maker, Matthew Bardocz. This is a humorous, 47-minute look at a Las Vegas subculture that bucks stereotypes of growing old in America.

Bardocz is unapologetic that the film doesn't delve into important and somber issues such as affordable health care.

"I think I will be criticized for not going into senior issues in more depth," Bardocz, 34, said.

But critics so far aren't calling him on it. "Off the Rocker," which will have its big-screen debut Saturday during the Las Vegas International Film Festival, already has won the festival's best Nevada feature film award.

"This film is meant to be another view of senior life. If the lifestyle these Las Vegas seniors lead somehow motivates others in their age group to get active and enjoy life , then the film will have done its job," Bardocz said.

Jill Slabinger, an "Off the Rocker" cast member - who looks as Marilyn Monroe might have, had the blond bombshell lived to be 61 - said she was proud to do a film that portrays happy, active seniors.

"When you watch TV these days all you see are sick, lonely seniors either in hospitals or in beds in their homes," Slabinger said. "We need to have more portrayals of seniors like those in our group who, despite some health problems, show the happy side of elderly people's lives."

Annette DiStefano, who along with her boyfriend , John Simone, are the film's featured couple, says cast members share a common goal in life: "We love the music and dance, we love to look and feel beautiful, we love to stay healthy and active , and we love being with our friends and socializing."

Bardocz said making the film taught him that 70 is the new 30.

The action scenes in Bardocz's film show seniors not only dancing, but also going on hikes, swimming and jogging. Some start their days at 5 a.m. in the gym lifting weights and continue well into the evenings, dancing to the Jerry Tiffe Trio performing classics like the 1934 Dorsey Brothers hit "Moonglow."

Bardocz said he shot 72 hours of videotape to produce a documentary that is designed to run as an hour long TV broadcast after commercials are added.

One segment of the film is devoted to what Bardocz calls "the taboo subject of senior sexuality." The seniors discuss whether they are sexually active.

"Of course sex is a part of our relationship," said Dave Rifkin, Slabinger's 90-year-old boyfriend and roommate, who also credits dancing for keeping him fit and trim. He's 5-foot-6 1/2 and weighs 140 pounds.

"I feel that dancing helps my virility," said Rifkin, who earned a Purple Heart as a tank crew member at the Battle of the Bulge during World War II. "My legs may be getting a little weaker , but I have a good, strong heart."

Rifkin, a Henderson resident of six years who worked for 40 years for United Parcel Service, said his love of dancing dates to when he was a teenager going to high school dances to meet girls. He says he met his two former wives and five prior fiancees at dances.

Bardocz, who produced the film with his actress wife, Christine Blackburn, for $28,000, wanted to create a movie distant from the glitzy Vegas. There are no shots of casinos or gambling. The only image of the Las Vegas Strip is a distant daytime shot from Summerlin.

The 21 cast members live in Sun City retirement communities in Summerlin and Anthem.

"They live life in the now," Bardocz said. "The more I got to know these people, the more I wanted to tell their story in a contemporary way."

The film's humor surfaces unexpectedly.

Bardocz videotaped a senior softball league game where cast members in the crowd gave him play-by-play commentary. After one batter hit the ball deep into the outfield and started running to first base, a cast member said: "Before he got his knees put in he couldn't even walk."

While shooting some driving scenes, DiStefano's boyfriend , Simone , left Bardocz and his camera car in the dust as he pushed his vehicle to more than 80 mph.

The filmmaker was awed by his subjects.

"They are part of the great generation that survived the Depression, fought in World War II and brought on the Baby Boom," Bardocz said. "We learned many things from them. Now we are seeing how some of them are choosing to live out the end of their lives."

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