Documentary Review: ‘A Greater Society’

Greetings again from the darkness. President Lyndon Johnson used the term “The Great Society” to describe the series of domestic programs designed to minimize poverty and racial discrimination, and offset the medical obligations of seniors (through Medicare and Medicaid) in the U.S. It was compared to FDR’s “The New Deal” (including the Social Security Act of 1935). Co-directors Craig Colton and Stacy Goldate titled their film as a twist on these programs, because the focus is the actions of some senior citizens who fight for the programs that are needed to protect their demography.

The Wynmoor Retirement Community in Broward County, Florida was developed in 1973, and marketed to seniors in New York and the entire northeast as a wonderful place to live out those golden years in warm weather and with modern amenities. A funny thing happened along the way … the residents of Wynmoor changed the politics of the area. And therein lies the most important message of the film: senior citizens can wield substantial political power through organization and commitment. Keep in mind that many of these folks are more than 90 years old. One of the most interesting that we meet is Rose. She was born in 1916 during Woodrow Wilson’s term in office.

Those we meet range from children of the depression era to children of the 60’s, and though that’s quite a diversity in sociological upbringings, it’s clear that they embrace the need to engage politically … even, and perhaps especially, these days. The cameras follow these men and (mostly) women as they strive to “get out the vote” for the 2014 midterm elections and the Florida gubernatorial race between Rick Scott and Charlie Crist.

Most of those we get to know are hardcore democrats, but there is one conservative gentlemen thrown in for contrast. Despite his being well spoken and educated on the issues, he gets little camera time. Co-directors Colton and Goldate are both highly successful editors, mostly on TV projects. Their expertise in how to put a movie together is obvious, as even though it’s slowly paced, that pace seems to mirror the process of these volunteers so dedicated to the political cause.

Broward County Public defender Howard Finkelstein offers recurring commentary during the film, but it’s really the Wynmoor residents who are the most interesting. We see the generational changes occurring within the community as new residents replace the older ones. The New York Jewish community is fading while there is an increased Latino presence. The challenge is for Wynmoor to retain the political power and dedication that has long defined it. In what is really a tribute to their efforts, the film acts as a kind of “how to” in gaining community involvement; though it’s Rose who gets the last word by reminding us of the message of “My brother’s keeper”.

Now on VOD.

David Ferguson
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