The Best of the Mardi Gras Film Festival returns to Riverside in April with an outstanding line up of films. Winner of Most Popular Documentary at the Adelaide Film Festival, Remembering the Man (based on the true story that inspired the hit play and film Holding the Man) is set to kick off the festival. Adrian Marshall-Leak from samesame.com.au reviews this must-see film.
“You read the book, we both saw the play at different times & we saw the film last year. What’s left to say?”
Words to that effect were said by my beau when we saw, back in January, that Nickolas Bird and Eleanor Sharpe’s documentary Remembering the Man was to play in this year’s Mardi Gras Film Festival program. An honest appraisal by my beau that I think some folks will also be asking.
Well, after sitting through this 83 minute poignant and powerful documentary last night, I can say, along with about 800 other folks who viewed it, one word… plenty!
If there’s anyone out there who hasn’t heard the story of Tim Conigrave and John Caleo (and where have you been, may I ask?), then let me recap their story for you.
Tim Conigrave was an Australian actor, playwright, AIDS. activist and counsellor who passed away in late 1994 after completing his memoir about his 15 year love affair with the great love of his life, John Caleo.
His story called Holding the Man (a term used in AFL when one tackles an opponent who doesn’t have the ball, causing a penalty) was basically about how they met as students at Xavier College in the mid-1970s, became boyfriends and were finally parted when Caleo succumbed to an AIDS-related illness in January 1992.
Since first being published in 1995, Holding the Man has been reprinted 14 times. In 2002 it was translated into Spanish. In 2007, the American and Canadian editions were published. In 2006 it was adapted into a stage play and to date has played in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide and Auckland. In 2007 it had its North American stage premiere and in 2013, its London West End premiere. It has won three Australian stage awards and five American stage awards. In 2015, the film of Holding The Man premiered at the Sydney Film Festival to rave reviews.
And now comes Remembering the Man.
And once again like the book, play and film, Mr Conigrave is our central narrator.
How can he narrate if he died back in 1994, you ask?
Well in 1993 at the height of the AIDS pandemic, folks felt that a whole generation of gay men could simply vanish due to this disease, taking their stories and experiences with them. So taped interviews were taken as part of the Australian response to the AIDS Oral History Project (National Library of Australia and AFAO) and Conigrave was one of their subjects.
And it is with these tapes, brilliantly added to this documentary, that give the late Conigrave the ability to tell his story again – in his own words.
But it’s not just Conigrave’s observations this time around either.
Directors Bird and Sharpe have assembled an abundance of friends, past school mates, colleagues and carers who give touching insight with frank anecdotes on both men as they really were. These folks were, and still are, very protective of their memories – the sadness of some of these memories, still upsetting in their recollection even today. There was also the revelation of Conigrave’s discovery of the female clitoris that I’m sure was never covered in book, play or film!
Contrasted with the reading of the superb play Soft Targets, penned by Conigrave in 1986 about the plight of what folks with HIV/AIDS went through during the pandemic, is footage of the oral bile publicly spilt from the mouths of folks like the Rev. Fred Nile and Queensland Mayor Dan Gleeson. Gleeson, who has since passed away himself, voiced the repugnant comment that “All people with HIV should be put up against a wall and shot.”
The editing in Remembering the Man is crisp and sharp. I wasn’t 100% sure if some of the “dramatic recreations” used worked effectively, but overall they weren’t too distracting to the narrative.
I was looking forward immensely to the screening of this documentary and I wasn’t disappointed. Neither will you be if you are lucky enough to experience it.
A fitting tribute to both men – Remembering the Man is highly recommended and a stand-out event of this year’s Mardi Gras Film Festival.
Don’t miss our screening of Remembering the Man at Riverside Theatre 1 April at 7pm. Check out the line-up for the rest of the festival, below:
2 April at 6pm
Shocked by her brother Andres’ sudden passing and racked with grief and regret, Lucia falls into a spiral of despair. With an unsupportive husband who is more obsessed with his career than helping his grieving wife, Lucia finds herself drawn to Marina, her late brother’s fiancée. The two women bond over their shared grief, recalling stories of the man they both loved. As they do, their connection grows deeper and feelings neither expected spring to the surface.
2 April at 8pm
This British documentary is a fascinating and honest insight into the lives of modern gay men who engage in weekend-long, drug-fuelled orgies, also known as ‘chemsex’ or ‘wired fun’. Follow a group of individuals as they speak frankly and openly about their many and varied experiences with chemsex. From hookup apps and websites to stark discussions around intimacy and addiction, health risks and HIV, the participants in Chemsex hold nothing back. Chemsex offers untouched, gritty and sometimes confronting points of view from a variety of lives within the London chemsex scene.
3 April at 5pm
Naama is a bored teenager in small town Israel, living with her authoritarian father and well-meaning mother. Family life is turbulent, particularly after her sister – a military secretary – goes missing again. School is a repetitive, empty place where students spend most of their time sucking down cigarettes outside. Naama escapes all this by going to dance parties and getting stoned. Her apathetic rebelliousness gets raised to a whole other level when the self-assured Dana turns up. A grittier version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Dana introduces Naama to Tel Aviv’s lesbian clubs, real drugs and kissing girls.
3 April at 7pm
Ryan, a gay New York fashion stylist, rejects his Asian upbringing until he meets Ning. As the two grow close, Ryan starts to examine his identity as he begins a new life and career. A romantic dramedy, overflowing with charm, humility and warmth, Front Cover balances light-heartedness with authenticity in a mature, nuanced work.