From the Video Vault: ACT UP Montreal 1990-1993

ACT UP Montreal 1990-1993 (date unknown) – 120 minutes, colour, english
by Earl Pinchuk

This video was recovered from the home video collection of Montreal film studies scholar Thomas Waugh after the AIDS Activist History Project recently interviewed him. While the transcripts are forthcoming, we wanted to preserve and share this compilation tape of ACT UP/MTL news stories and raw event footage today in order to provide better context for AIDS activist organizing in Montreal in the early 1990s. This two hour video compiled by ACT UP/MTL member Earl Pinchuk is primarily an omnibus compilation of english and french broadcast news stories about ACT UP/MTL actions. Michael Hendricks, a founding member of ACT UP/MTL, notes that compilation tapes of news footage—like that of the Sex Garage kiss-in protest footage in front of police station 25 that this omnibus tape begins with—were often put together by members of ACT UP/MTL to share informally with other ACT UP chapters across North America. Hendricks also notes that the Sex Garage kiss-in protest footage in particular was used by an affinity group within ACT UP/MTL while presenting at the Québec Human Rights Commission hearings into discrimination and violence against gays and lesbians that took place in November 1993. Other content included in the video covers: Lesbians and Gays against Violence (LGV); Prisoner Justice Day protest; anti-violence and anti-police violence demonstrations; women and HIV/AIDS World AIDS Day march; the murder of Joe Rose; queer resilience and nightlife; condoms and sex education in schools; gay serial murders in downtown Montreal; Queer Nation Rose; and the fight to establish Parc l’Espoir (an AIDS memorial park).

Karen Herland, who appears in the video numerous times, also co-wrote an article in 2014 for the Journal of Canadian Studies about the events captured on Pinchuk’s video compilation tape. You can check that journal article out here.

 

From the Video Vault: Karate Kids (1990)

Karate Kids (1990) – 21 minutes, colour, english
by Derek Lamb

This short animation film was funded by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) in partnership with the non-profit charitable organization Street Kids International (now part of Save the Children), founded by Order of Canada recipients Peter Dalglish (World Health Organization) and Frank O’Dea (Second Cup). It was written and directed by Academy Award winner Derek Lamb, a British transplant whose now ex-wife Janet Perlman helped animate the film. Karate Kids has be translated into more than 25 languages, circulated in over one hundred countries, and was the recipient of the Peter F. Drucker Award for Canadian Nonprofit Innovation in 1993. With such accolades for both the film and its makers, it’s (un)surprising that the film’s content and message was met with anger and hostility from AIDS activists in Canada—notably ACT UP/Montréal.

Karate Kids takes as its premise that there are dangerous men lurking around densely populated markets in the global south who are there to rape your little boys and infect them with AIDS (no, not HIV, but AIDS, because a complex understanding of the disease isn’t relevant here). While the film is utilizing methods of visual instruction for HIV prevention—there’s brief discussion of condoms in the context of “making love” with your opposite-gender partner—the film’s message is muddied by rampant homophobia. Stranger danger is typified in the film by images of a feminine man with a pencil moustache and sun glasses riding around in a dark car with a driver looking for children to entice with money and gifts (ie. rich faggots who want to fuck your children). It just so happens that this “smiling man” in the dark car ensnares a young boy Mario, rapes him, and at the end of the film Mario dies of AIDS. The lesson to be learned: stay away from rich faggots, even if they offer you money or gifts, because they only want to rape you and give you AIDS.

ACT UP/Montréal responded by producing a bilingual pamphlet condemning the film and outlining a number of problems.  ACT UP complains that the animation and the attendant comic book based on the same characters and storyline, peddle bigoted stereotypes and middle class morality. Furthermore they note the film trades action and violence—the “Smiling Man” is killed fleeing a lynch mob—while failing to show the realities of how HIV transmission occurs and is prevented in everyday contexts. You can find the full flyer in english and french in our digital Montréal ephemera archive here.

The film can be watched in full on the NFB website, as it continues to circulate today as an AIDS education video—believe it or not.  You can also check out the factually suspect (“AIDS virus”) study guide meant to be used by community educators to help supply the factual information missing from the short animation. And if you haven’t had enough already, you can continue watching the misadventures of Karate and his street kid friends in the follow up animation Goldtooth (1994) or watch the promotional video Brave Ideas (1993) celebrating the animation short and Street Kids International .

From the Video Vault: No Sad Songs (1985)

No Sad Songs (1985) – 60 minutes, colour, english
by Nik Sheehan

The oral history transcripts produced by our project primarily focus on the AIDS activist years of the late 1980s and 1990s when it became clear that HIV/AIDS was not just a medical, but political crisis. However, the early years of the AIDS crisis provide context for the emergence of activist responses to the stigma, medical neglect, government ineptitude, and overt homophobia that marked the early 1980s. Nik Sheehan’s No Sad Songs is groundbreaking in that it provides an early look at AIDS crisis in Canada from within directly affected communities.

The documentary was co-produced by the AIDS Committee of Toronto who had obtained a $20,000 grant for making an educational video. As noted by Tom Waugh, No Sad Songs is the first AIDS documentary in Canada and set the stage for a cascade of AIDS activist media for the next decade. Importantly, the production of this documentary modelled the artist-community organization partnership that would be emulated in many HIV/AIDS alternative media projects, most notably the public access cable series Toronto: Living With AIDS (1990-1991). The video premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 1985.

The full video is available for streaming from HotDocs here.

For more on No Sad Songs check out Matt Hays’ article in POV Magazine, Doc Classics: No Sad Songs.

 

From the Video Vault: Please Adjust Your Sex (1988) and Another Man (1988)

Please Adjust Your Sex (1988) – 20 minutes, colour, english
Another Man (1988) – 3 minutes, colour, english
by Youth Against Monsterz

Toronto-based anarchist theatre collective Youth Against Monsterz produced at least two tapes in the late 1980s that are now available online thanks to the sleuthing of Andy Sorfleet.

Please Adjust Your Sex is a DIY no-budget videotape by and for young people that encourages viewers to engage in safer sex and safer drug use practices while also encouraging them to embrace their desires and reject the patronizing and moralizing media cacophony bombarding them everyday. While the aesthetics are dated, the editing choppy, and the acting goofy, this tape is an important predecessor to the now much more polished DIY youtube videos being made by young people today.

 

Another Man features many of the same thematics, but smartly wrapped up into a three minute music video featuring the synth sounds of the Mr. Tim Collective and the whip-smart analysis of lesbian activist Chris Bearchell. According to Vtape, Another Man was originally shown on City-TV’s syndicated New Music Show. Gay film scholar Tom Waugh also points out that Another Man was one of three videotapes from Canadian authors included in Canadian John Greyson’s and American Bill Horrigan’s 1990 three VHS compilation package Video Against AIDS (1990).  With hundreds of these three tape packages distributed in the US by Video Data Bank and in Canada by Vtape, Another Man reached significant audiences all over North America before online digital video distribution.

For more on Canadian video artists’ responses to the epidemic see Chapter 9, “Anti-Retroviral: A Test of Who We Are,” in Tom Waugh’s Romance of Transgression in Canada: Queering Sexualities, Nations, Cinemas (2006).

Premiere of Our Bodies Our Business (2016)

In commemoration of the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers (December 17, 2016), the Triple-X Workers’ Solidarity Association partnered with University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health to premiere Our Bodies Our Business, a video compiling important, historic footage of prostitutes’ rights activists at the 5th International Conference on AIDS in Montreal (1989).

The video was directed by George Stamos with production help from Andrew Sorfleet, and was produced as part of a national consultation on PrEP and sex work in Toronto and funded by the Elton John AIDS Foundation. The video footage was filmed by ACT UP New York filmmaker Catherine Gund, and showcases the incredible work undertaken by prostitutes’ rights activists at the intersections of sex work, safer sex practices, and HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination.

Whores are safe sex pros!


To learn more about how activists intervened in the 5th International Conference on AIDS in 1989, visit AAHP’s Montreal collection.