For various reasons I missed The Love That Won’t Shut Up, Rex vs Singh, and The Portside. I’d be damned if I was going to miss this screening, the last of the series commissioned by the Queer History Project.
Riffs consists of five very short films (about 5 minutes long on average), with the focus being on a panel discussion with the directors. Moving and informative, Riffs is an excellent conclusion to an already fantastic series.
Shot in 2006 by, and starring, Byron Chief Moon, it shows him dancing and meditating on Blood Reserve land in southern Alberta. The visuals are stunning (seriously, that is one beautiful landscape), and Chief Moon does a wonderful job of wordlessly communicating his deep connection to the land, but I couldn’t quite see what it had to do with history or activism. But as he explained during the Q&A, this was a way for him, an urban queer, to reconnect to the land of his ancestors.
Laughing Behind Enemy Lines
This funny and touching documentary by David C Jones gives us a glimpse of the drag entertainers of the 50’s and 60’s, back when homosexuality was still illegal. They didn’t have parades then, or a bookstore, but through their acts, and bringing like-minded people together, these drag queens helped plant the seeds of a true community. Was it activism? Hell yes, though they may not have thought so at the time.
And I learned something, too: one of the interviewees (who owned a nightclub called Roddy’s) briefly ran a queer bootleg club in 1955! Bootleg? Well, BC was one of several provinces that briefly flirted with Prohibition, but that ended in 1920. However, sale of liquor could only take place in government-controlled stores. It’s possible those stores wouldn’t sell to gay people or businesses back then. Fascinating either way!
In The Garden
This is another short that’s at first sight not obviously related to history or activism. Or queerness, for that matter. Debora O uses old footage obtained from her father of their personal garden, and in her voiceover praises the art of community and urban gardening: it affords us a powerful connection with the earth (so often missing with urban folks), with our bodies, with the world at large, and draws the vital link between consumption and cultivation. She concludes that queers, especially, need to reach out and connect just like urban gardeners.
Which might seem a little tacked on, but there is a connection. Queers, she said in the post-show Q&A, are doing a lot of work in community gardening. In fact, her her community garden was started by a queer woman. And, the movie is partly about her family history: she loves loves piecing together stories, stories that were lost when her family immigrated. It’s not always accurate, but it’s a start.
A Film For W.G.
Gwen Haworth delivers this short homage to Vancouver’s trans activists of the 90’s. It was then that trans people (mostly trans women at first, but then branching out to include trans men) started to come together and work for their rights. Featured is Jamie Lee Hamilton, still going strong today, and came very close to getting on the Vancouver City Council in 1996. There’s also the Zenith Foundation, maybe one of the earliest trans groups, who was distributing a newsletter in the early 90’s. An interesting look at a very young, but already very diverse, movement.
I See The Fear
Well, that was a punch in the gut, wasn’t it? This collage of photos and videos by Joe Average and Jamie Griffiths, displaying Joe’s progressing lipoatrophy starting in 2003. It’s raw and unforgiving, daring us to look away—the already troubling images then enhanced by other visual effects, giving them even more of a skeletal or demonic look. The main purpose of the movie, for his, was to make art as therapy and healing. But also to counter the media talking about AIDS as a manageable disease, thanks to new drugs. Younger generations believe there are no consequences to unsafe sex, but drugs still have serious side effects. With this movie and others like it, we can learn from history and hopefully avoid making the same mistakes twice.