What's it like making a film when you’re 87? Duncan Cowles wanted to see if he could get his grandfather interested in film making, while making a visual portrait of him. Watch this heartwarming documentary, 'Directed by Tweedie', which is a film about Duncan's grandfather making a film, and we absolutely love it.

The Age of No Retirement's Q&A with Duncan Cowles.

Can you tell our readers a bit about who you are?

I'm a documentary filmmaker based in Edinburgh. I've made a number of short documentaries, quite often featuring older people, and frequently my own family members. My films have travelled around film festivals internationally and won a selection of awards, including most recently a BAFTA Scotland for Best Short Film in 2016.  

Can you tell us a bit about your role in this project/your motivation for making it.

It was my first ever funded short film after leaving Edinburgh College of Art in 2013. I wanted to make a film about my Granddad to capture a memory of him whilst this was still possible. However, I wanted to do something that went beyond just a traditional character portrait film. So I tried to get my Granddad to get involved in making the film, and then make the film about him making the film. This didn't quite work as he had no real interest in filmmaking or any kind of artistic pursuit, but the results were hopefully entertaining and touching for audiences to watch. I'm certainly very happy with it. My Granddad is less well these days, and I'm so glad that I will always have this film to remember him how he was when he was better.

Has this project changed how you view age?

I think this project, and also more recently an adapted version of this project that I did in a care home, where I worked with older residents making films, has really made me see age differently. Older people deserve respect and to be treated the same as everyone else. The residents of the care homeall made comments on how I spoke to them like they were a friend, and not like a patient or like a customer in a shop scenario. I think this made me really think about the way I speak to older people in general throughout all parts of my life.

"I think this project, and also more recently an adapted version of this project that I did in a care home where I worked with older residents making films, has really made me see age differently. Older people deserve the same level of respect as everyone else. I think this made me really think about the way I speak to older people in general throughout all parts of my life."

Duncan Cowles.

Image by Duncan Cowles

Also asking older people, and indeed my Granddad questions was interesting. So often older people and grandparents ask younger people questions, but don't always get asked much themselves. We shouldn't be afraid to ask older people questions. Not simply 'How are you?' but questions with more depth such as, 'How have you been feeling recently? Or 'What's on your mind, what have you been dreaming about lately?' 

Do you think how old you are today, is relevant to how you think about yourself and why?

Yea I'm 27 next month (July 2017), and my age is definitely always in the back of my mind. I think I still feel the same as I did a few years back, but every now again I look at myself in the mirror and notice that I'm looking distinctly older. To be fair this is normally first thing in the morning when I look tired, but I do begin to see characteristics of my parents and grandparents starting to show and it wakes me up to the fact I'm getting older.

My Dad says I was born old and I'm getting younger like that film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button with Brad Pitt where he ages backwards. I sometimes think he's right. If clothes are anything to go by I'm definitely beginning to get a bit more silly with my dress sense. I bought bright hi-vis yellow shoes the other day made out of the same stuff as tennis balls because I thought it was quite funny and they were only £15 (down from £60). They've had a mixed response, but I just think why not? I used to just wear the same brown smart shoes every day until they wore down to nothing, then I bought the same pair again. You only live once. Get some hi-vis, live a little.

Do you think how old you are today, changes how people think about you and why?

Yes, again I've been noticing it more and more recently. Older people still seem to think I'm really young, but younger people are beginning to view me as a lot lot older which is very odd. I suppose this is just what happens to people though. I'd say most people definitely think about age when they look at anyone though, even if it's just subconsciously. Most have always estimated my age about 7 years older than I actually am. I think that's because I have a tendency to be quite grumpy. It's also cold and windy in Scotland – not great for the skin. Low levels of sunlight though, so we do well in terms of UV sun damage.

Is there a difference between people who know you and people who you have just met? Could you give us an example?

"I think the biggest benefit of a society where age doesn't define us, is that we'd all talk more, and on an equal playing field. Older people and younger people wouldn't be excluded from the conversation, and we'd all grow together."

Duncan Cowles.

Image by Duncan Cowles

Yes I would say those who just meet me will judge me very differently from those who've know me my whole life, or a longer amount of time. For example my friend Lauren who I've known since I sat next to her at primary school will always have that image of me drawing smiley faces on my pencil rubbers, and what I was like in general growing up and through my teenage years. Someone I've just met though, sees a grumpy chap in his late twenties with a deep voice. They don't have all the backstory and memories of my character before that moment which would totally change the way they view me. If they knew my backstory they'd think, “How can someone who used to draw smiley faces on pencil rubbers be so glum?” Lauren will know that just because I'm not smiling, it doesn't mean I'm unhappy. A newcomer may think I'm miserable.

What is the biggest stress in your life at the moment? Does this have anything to with how old you are?

Not directly at the moment. My biggest stress is probably the feature documentary I'm currently trying to make. In saying that however, I do worry I'll never make enough money to buy my own place, or retire. Documentary doesn't pay that well as a career path... I may just have to work forever. I have no pension. I may never have one. Please help.

What do you think are the biggest challenges we share across all ages?

The world is so divided. For example it's very easy to see this when looking at the results of how different generations voted in the recent UK general election. Younger people are voting so drastically differently to older voters. I don't know what the answer is, and how we can all come together a bit more, but anything that starts a conversation about this surely helps? I think we need to all listen to each other and talk more across the generations and indeed class structures.

What can you learn from people who are older?

Huge amounts. I love speaking to older people. They have lived longer than me and seen things I'll never see. Older people should be listened to. When I was working with the residents in the care home last year all of them talked about how important it is to enjoy life. Spending time with family and friends was highlighted by most of them as hugely important as they reflected upon their lives.

"I don't know what the answer is, and how we can all come together a bit more, but anything that starts a conversation about this surely helps? I think we need to all listen to each other and talk more across the generations and indeed class structures."

Duncan Cowles.

What can you learn from people who are younger?

Sometimes when I see or work with really young kids, I like how they don't necessarily care about how they look, or if what they're doing looks odd or strange to others. When they are really young they don't necessarily have the same filter that older people do.

For example, I was sitting with a friend having a coffee on a park bench this morning next to a fountain and a small kid suddenly appeared. He went straight up to the very edge of the fountain, sat down, facing it, and began to read a book. He must have been about 4 years old or something. It was amazing. It looked so strange that he was sitting right up close to the fountain, I mean, any closer and he'd literally be in the fountain. Yet, he wasn't fussed, didn't care what people around him thought.

Eventually his Mum came over and got him, but for a couple minutes he was content in his little world facing this fountain. If instead a grown 'adult' had sat where the kid had been sat, that close to the fountain he'd have got so many funny looks for being so extremely close. I thought to myself though, “Why not? If that's where you want to sit, go for it!” I love that stuff.

What do you think is the benefit of a society where our age does not define us?

I think it's best to 'see the person not the age.' I heard that on the radio once and it stuck with me. I can't remember what it was for, but it stuck with me. Try your best to treat everyone the same, and to treat people the way you'd want to be treated yourself. I think the biggest benefit of a society where age doesn't define us, is that quite simply we'd all talk more, and on an equal playing field. Older people and younger people wouldn't be excluded from the conversation, and we'd all grow together.  

You can find out more about Duncan Cowles here.

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