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.
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).
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.