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Michael Goro Takeuchi

Mike Goro Takeuchi is a professional journalist who has written on film and sports  for numerous outlets sincr 2000. An award-winning creative non-fiction writer, Tak also pens a weekly sports column for a newspaper based in Southern California.


He was the production manager for the Santa Barbara International Film Festival from 2006-2015. 



Documentary Filmmaker PJ Raval's Next Subject Revealed Itself Before He Knew It.




By Mike Takeuchi  

Photos by Mike Simpson for BEFORE YOU KNOW IT


(In addition to directing TRINIDAD and his most recent film BEFORE YOU KNOW IT, filmmaker PJ Raval was the cinematographer for the 2008 Academy Award nominated documentary TROUBLE THE WATER.  Raval took some time out of a hectic film festival-filled week to speak with

 On a June night in 2009 while celebrating the world premiere of his and co-director Jay Hodges' film TRINIDAD with family, friends and fellow crew members, the idea for PJ Raval's next film stood right in front of him. He just didn't know it at the time.  

   At the reception for TRINIDAD-a documentary about the transsexual journey of three women that was nominated for best documentary at the Los Angeles Film Festival (and later won that award at the Cleveland International Film Festival),  Raval enjoyed a memorable exchange with a group of gay senior citizens that became the impetus for his current film BEFORE YOU KNOW IT- a project that premiered at SXSW and plays at Outfest in Los Angeles this evening before it will be the Denver Cinema Q Fest's Opening Night film on Thursday, July 18.

  While a potentially long festival run is forthcoming, BEFORE YOU KNOW IT has already come a long way from this chance meeting.

 "There was something about me seeing a large group of gay seniors to make me realize that this is a very underserved and overlooked population," Raval told in a phone interview.  "But I didn't immediately think this was going to be a movie because first of all, I didn't even expect to have this experience."

                                                                                                                       "But it did stick with me and a couple of months later I started thinking about how this story could come together. All along, my TRINIDAD producer Sara Giustini kept saying ‘We should put it together"' and that convinced me. It helped to see someone else thinking the same thing.  Sara was invaluable- she gave me that vote of confidence by reaffirming that it was a good story.”

  Filming began in 2009 focusing  Dennis, a 70-something widower from Florida who had just begun exploring his sexuality privately and also dressed in women's clothing while assuming the identity under the name of Dee while spending summers in Portland.  It continued with Ty, an activist for gay seniors in the Harlem borough of New York City who was in the middle of a long term relationship with his partner Stanton.



                                                 Ty (in tank top) at a Pride Parade in NYC



  While searching for a third subject for the movie, Raval was accepted into Film Independent's documentary filmmaking lab.  Here he would have a chance to interact with other filmmakers as well as have a mentor to help guide him through the process.

  "I was discussing with Sara about what to do about the third subject while also sharing samples of what I shot with our editor Kyle Henry when this opportunity came along," Raval said.   "I knew that it would be a great atmosphere in to show my work with others and get feedback.    But there was initially a feeling of having that pit in your stomach because you are putting yourself in a vulnerable position while you are showing your work to complete strangers. I was worried that they would say something like 'this is not working at all' and then thinking Oh God am I doing the right thing?"

  Raval's concerns were unfounded amongst a group of peers that included filmmakers of the acclaimed documentaries CALL ME KUCHU and THE LIGHT IN HER EYES. They were all in the same boat and all willing to help each other make their respective films.

  "I just put it out there and the response was so positive, and I was very relieved," Raval said. "They asked questions and were very supportive and gave me that first moment where I felt that I was doing something good, because it's one thing for me to have support of my producer and editor, but another from fellow filmmakers who aren't emotionally invested in the project."

  Raval also credited the support of his assigned mentor Eddie Schmidt-a producer director who teamed with Kirby Dick to make the 2004 Oscar nominated TWIST OF FAITH as well as produced this writer's favorite music documentary TROUBADOURS.

  Yet there was still the matter of one important component.

     "I was still in production at the time of the lab and I was still trying to figure out the third storyline,” Raval said. "I definitely knew what was happening to Dennis's story and started to get deep into Ty's story.  I wanted the third one to explore someone at a different point in his life, a different community. 

 "And then I thought about bar culture.  As someone in the LGBT community, I realized that bar culture is sort of like the original gay community. That's where it all started the original meeting ground. I felt I needed to include a story like that."

  Enter Robert, a fiery bar owner in Galveston Texas who in addition to potentially losing his bar, is faced with health issues brought on by both the aging process and his celebrative lifestyle.  From the free very different story arcs, Raval and cinematographer Mike Simpson filmed approximately 500 hours over a 3 1/2-year period while crisscrossing across the country between New York, Galveston, Portland and Florida.

  "The challenging things about the doc I was making is it's not like an essay style where I know exactly who, what, when, and how," Raval said. "This is more observational and because of that there is an unfolding element where you don't know what is going to happen. There could be a time where one of the subjects says that they don't want to be a part of this anymore or one of the subjects could be move to Germany and have us thinking that was not what we expected at all."



"But those are the things I love about making these-its unexpected unfolding where you just have to go with it.  It's challenging for sure, but it's exciting and there's something really rewarding about the process.  There were moments that I was thinking "wow" this is happening. Things like when a few days after New York legalized gay marriages, Ty and his friend Ose were having a deep conversation about that just a day before his friend was actually going to marry his boyfriend.  Or when Dee (Dennis) is at a Pride parade in Portland and strangers invite him to get on a boat (that served as a float) with them."

   The director said that having several moments like these made it an initial challenge to find a stopping point in filming.

  "With this kind of documentary I could go on forever and ever because their lives continue to this day," Raval said.  "But I think with each of these subjects, I hit a moment of filming where I felt like a chunk of significant time in each story had come to a close. And from that, I could break it down to maintain the essence of each subject while reaching a point where there is closure.”

    After shooting wound down, the filmmaker was given another opportunity thanks to a Sundance Institute lab on documentary filming.

  "The Sundance lab was great because at that point I was starting to edit and was trying to figure out how to put together all the footage I had," he said. "The Sundance experience helped me manage all of this footage and whittle it down in a matter that allowed me to keep my focus."

  What came from it was in this writer's opinion, the successful convergence of three separate story arcs into a wonderful 112-minute film that many people, gay or straight, young or old, can relate to.

  "I think a lot of people have been moved by the film and are actually surprised by it because of how much they relate to the subjects," Raval said. "They might go in and think that they have nothing in common, but after watching it realize that there is a lot of universal aspects in things like the aging process as well as the other relatable things that they are trying to cope with- self acceptance into a community, dealing with loneliness and partnership."

  The three subjects joined the filmmakers for the premiere at SXSW and will do so again in Los Angeles and Denver.

  "Their reaction was great because they knew that I was working on this film with them in it and was following others from different cities, but they didn't know the other story lines," Raval said.  "Watching the film it suddenly came together for them while also giving them another insight into their own lives.  It was a very interesting dynamic getting these three people together that I knew well, but didn't know each other.  My worlds were colliding."

Filmmaker PJ Raval


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