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February 2007

reel life

There is love at the end of the tunnel as a new TV series shows

The Modern Day Single

Take a rollercoaster ride into the world of singles in the 21st century, as revealed in this moving new documentary

WORDS KERRIE THEOBALD

It started out with conversations over coffee and blossomed into a five part serial for SBS television — the life of a modern day single. Singles Club, screening this month from Valentine's Day (February 14 at 8pm), is the inspiration of producers Luigi Acquisto and Stella Zammataro.

The husband and wife team recognised a growing trend in Australia that people of all ages were staying single longer and that finding a life partner seemed to be getting harder and harder. “As friends hit their 30s, the state of being single suddenly became an issue. The excitement of playing the field gave way to endless discussions about finding the right man or woman, and why it was so difficult,” says Acquisto.

“Everyone had been single or knew someone who was, and often for a very long time. Other friends separated or divorced and they too entered the world of singledom.”

The most famous of all singles, the character Bridget Jones, put it best in the top-selling book and movie, Bridget Jones' Diary, when she explained the terror of the single life.

“I suddenly realised that unless something changed soon I was going to live a life where my major relationship was with a bottle of wine€¦ and I'd finally die, fat and alone, and be found three weeks later half-eaten by Alsatians. Or was I about to turn into Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction?”

While in the past, meeting someone special may have been more about luck, about being at the right bar at the right time, about blind dates set up by well-meaning friends, these days where does the contemporary single go to find their perfect match?

Acquisto and Zammataro thought it was time to take a look at the single scene and looked around the local clubs for potential participants. They found the perfect mix at the Phoenix Lifestyle club, in Melbourne, and after months of research the documentary found its form.

“We chose Phoenix Lifestyle to lend the documentary a focus. It's a social club for single people and Australia's oldest Singles Club. It has more than 1,500 members ranging from 20 to 70 years of age,” says Acquisto.

As friends hit their 30s, the state of being single suddenly became an issue. The excitement of playing the field gave way to endless discussions about finding the right man or woman.

Rather than making a current affairs-style show, Acquisto and Zammataro went for a more personal, fly on the wall approach, sharing an intimate and often emotional journey with six very different people searching for love.

The truth is there are more single people now than at any other time in history. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (2005) figures show that for more than 20 years the number of marriages each year has been in decline.

Not only are there fewer marriages but first-time brides are getting older. The average age for a women marrying for the first time has increased from 23 years in 1985 to 28 years in 2005.

Women remarrying after divorce are also older. In 2005, the average age for women remarrying was 41 years compared with 34 years in 1985. Similarly for men, the average age for men remarrying was 44 years in 2005, a seven year increase from 1985.

In comparison to other countries, Australia falls in the mid-range for the number of marriages each year. Vietnam has the highest number of marriages followed by Iran and the US while Venezuela, France and Italy recorded the lowest.

Producers Acquisto and Zammataro believe the growing number of singles is also a result of increasing divorce rates. In 2005, divorce figures increased by 5.4% on the number granted in 1995. Of Australia's states and territories, the highest number of divorces was granted in NSW, followed by Victoria and Queensland.

With this sociological canvas as the backdrop, Acquisto and Zammataro started filming the dating lives of six men and women of various ages in their quest to find a partner, love and in some cases, marriage.

Singles Club follows the lives of Peter, 50, an academic and marketing consultant recovering from a painful divorce after 28 years of marriage; Mark, 34, a university lecturer who suffered a serious road accident several years earlier leaving him with a brain injury; Ange, 31, a wedding videographer and a commitment-phobic; Suzanne, 35, an artist divorced after a brief marriage; Alice,36, a nurse who's recovering from a traumatic relationship breakup; and Judithe, founder of Phoenix Lifestyle who was left a quadriplegic after a car accident.

For Acquisto and Zammataro it was a unique and privileged experience entering the lives of these people over a two-year period, filming intimate and often fragile moments. A bond developed between some of them that has endured past the last filmed frame.

There is an 89% chance of meeting a partner through one of these clubs, compared to 3% socially.

“I was surprised by their willingness to talk about very private matters on national television. We followed them through many different stages: some grieving following difficult divorces, some distracted by new infatuations, some feeling trepidation at starting a new relationship, and some confronting their fears about dating.

We became friends, confidantes and advisors. The normal boundaries between documentary filmmakers and their subjects dissolved,” reveals Acquisto with candour.

As the participants got braver and more adventurous, some extended their search for love beyond the Phoenix club and embarked on internet dating, speed dating and approached professional matchmakers.

A helpful hint for those still searching for love comes from Rosalind Baker of Entre Nous in Melbourne, who says there is an 89% chance of meeting a partner through one of these clubs, compared to a 3% chance of meeting someone out and about socially.

During the filming Judithe was re-united with her first love, Rudi, whom she hadn't seen in 35 years. Rudi thought Judithe had died in the car accident. She rang him on a whim and he flew from Greece to see her, shocked and grateful that she was alive.

“She's just one of the inspiring stories,” says Acquisto. “Three of the people met someone and the two people that don't settle down by the end of it, you know, are moving forward with a positive desire to meet someone.

“What surprised me most was how successful the relationships were and none of them were match-made,” says Acquisto. “Some people feel that it is unnatural to find love online or through a club, but the individuals who found love during the series are uncannily suited to their new partners.”

Acquisto says the documentary offers something that you don't generally see on television. “There's a candidness, humour and passion as these stories unfold of ordinary people struggling to find acceptance, love and a place in the world.”

After working on such diverse documentaries as The Life and Times of Malcolm Fraser, Once Were Monks, Trafficked and the award-winning epic East Timor — Birth of a Nation, Acquisto and Zammataro, who formed Abracadabra Films together in 1997, were right in deciding that the climate was ripe for exploring the rollercoaster ride of relationships.

As a result, Singles Club offers an insight into another world for those happily connected and perhaps a little hope, inspiration and direction for those still out there looking.






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