“We’re not invisible, we’re not senile” - short film captures loneliness research
University of Auckland research into loneliness and social isolation among older New Zealanders has helped create an
animated short film running in the Show Me Shorts film festival.
Elder Birdsong – one of only eight New Zealand films selected – gives voice to original research led by Professor Merryn Gott from the
University’s School of Nursing, carried out as part of a National Science Challenge grant.
The filmmakers, Associate Professors Shuchi Kothari and Sarina Pearson in the University’s Faculty of Arts, based the
short film on research interviews by Professor Gott’s team with culturally diverse older people about their experience
of loneliness and social isolation.
They had the idea of representing people with birds: an older Korean couple are godwits, a Pāhekā woman is an owl, and
the tui is a Māori kuia played by actor Rima Te Wiata.
Ms Te Wiata describes the film as gentle storytelling. “There is a magical element that's very engaging. Gentle,
animated, elderly creatures confiding the difficulties they experience appeals to the child in us all, and opens
Professor Gott says they wanted to present the poignancy, sadness and isolation that can come with ageing with a little
humour. They also wanted to highlight systemic problems.
“A lot of the issues the people we interviewed were experiencing were structural, not personal: issues of
transportation, community space, living distant from their families. People of all ages need agency in their lives,” she
Sings the owl:
“It’s truly tough getting older, nothing is like it used to be, my husband is dead, my friends are all gone, my kids all
live overseas…trust me I don’t need your pity… I like my independence…time keeps marching on and on, so I don’t regret
what I lack…we’re not invisible, we’re not senile, all we’d like is a visit once in a while…”
Professor Gott says we all need to be more aware of the high prevalence of loneliness and social isolation among older
people in New Zealand. “I believe the film will really help soften hearts, rather than place an accusatory
responsibility on viewers. We hope it will encourage discussion about the responsibility we all have to promote social
connection within our communities.”
The film also demonstrates how research results can be extended beyond academic audiences, and how faculties within the
university can collaborate to produce innovative research outcomes, she adds.
Elder Birdsong will be released for use by schools, healthcare professionals and organisations such as Age Concern – a partner in the
original research – to use as a teaching tool and to raise awareness nationally about loneliness, isolation and
connection among older adults. It will also be entered in film festivals internationally.