The Graying of America


The Film


A group of older adults in a meeting at a table in front of a bookshelf cluttered with books. One man takes notes on a pad of paper. 

Irja and Lucille sit across the table from one another in a diner. 

Irja and another woman sit at a protest, holding posters that read “Sunset Hall Supports Bus Riders” and “MTA Took Us For A Ride.”

“SUNSET STORY… may make you laugh and cry--and may change your mind about age and aging. You probably won't find two more fascinating camera subjects, two livelier conversationalists or two richer, more rewarding, more engaging and inspiring companions in any movie, fiction or non-fiction, this year.”
—Michael Wilmington, The Chicago Tribune

Deep in the heart of central Los Angeles lies an unusual retirement home. Founded in 1923, Sunset Hall caters to the “free-thinking elderly,” integrating aging with progressive activism and giving its residents the opportunity to engage with the causes they hold dear. Set against the backdrop of this home for politically progressive seniors, SUNSET STORY delves inside the world of two of Sunset Hall’s most lucid residents, 81-year-old Irja Lloyd and 95-year-old Lucille Alpert, whose feisty engagement with life inextricably draws them together.

In Sunset Hall, the library overflows with books and is adorned with a bust of Lenin, serving as the site of many a heated debate. Bingo, dismissed by one resident as "a ridiculous game," is categorically rejected. Yet, as their bodies and minds deteriorate, the 25 Sunset Hall residents, ranging in age from 65 to 101, struggle to participate in these lively activities. In the midst of a lecture, discussion or meal, many will doze or stare off into space while others insert non-sequiturs or belligerent remarks or remain in the common living room, glued to the television.

Lucille, with a cane in one hand, the other to Irja’s wheelchair as they move forward together.

Like many of their fellow residents, Irja and Lucille wrestle daily with the obstacles of aging. However, their friendship, in their words, has "saved both of our lives." After moving into Sunset Hall within weeks of one another, they soon form an unbreakable bond—socially, intellectually and physically. In order to be assured of stimulating conversation and emotional sanity, the two sit together at every meal and every meeting. Lucille needs help in order to walk, so she braces herself against the back of Irja's wheelchair, and simultaneously propels Irja's chair forward.

SUNSET STORY follows Irja and Lucille for a period of several months as they venture out for manicures, political protests and meals at their favorite deli. Meanwhile, at Sunset Hall, they are among the few who speak up during political discussions and the only ones alert enough to care about the appalling menu offerings. In private, they air their frustrations about fellow residents and debate a fitting observance of the upcoming Jewish holidays from disparate perspectives, as a Finnish Unitarian (Irja) and an assimilated Jew (Lucille). When Lucille receives a terminal cancer diagnosis, Irja must confront the possibility of losing her lifeline.

Sharp-witted, up-to-date and often provocative, Irja and Lucille are unafraid to share their opinions on men, sex, gender roles and social attitudes toward the elderly. In a culture in which the elderly are often isolated and discarded as “unpleasant” reminders of the aging process, SUNSET STORY explodes familiar stereotypes, portraying two friends’ search for meaning and connection with unexpected emotion. As Manohla Dargis of The New York Times says, "the story of Lucille and Irja may break your heart, but it will also make your day."


Filmmakers Laura Gabbert, Caroline Libresco and Eden Wurmfeld shot SUNSET STORY between the spring of 1998 and October 2000, with a more comprehensive shoot in September and October 2000 upon learning of Lucille’s terminal illness. In February 2005, they reported:

Irja Lloyd and Lucille Alpert became fast friends and remained inseparable companions for the two years they lived at Sunset Hall until Lucille’s death in November 2000. Irja remained a lively and impassioned activist until she passed away in August 2003, about six weeks after seeing the Los Angeles premiere of SUNSET STORY, where she took the stage in front of friends and family gathered from around the world and used her time in the spotlight to spread her political message.

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