Launched to international recognition in 1993 with his provocative AIDS musical Zero Patience, Toronto filmmaker John Greyson established himself as a leading figure in the loosely defined New Queer Cinema movement of the early 1990s. In an extensive body of work that ranges from documentary and historical fiction to filmed operas and experimental video art, Greyson employs Brechtian methods to refashion well-worn cinematic tropes as instruments of social and political activism, engaging the audience critically while never forgetting the power of pathos, humour and sensuality in telling his stories of forbidden love and struggles for recognition and liberation. To mark the release of a DVD box set and a new monograph dedicated to the work of New Queer Cinema pioneer John Greyson, TIFF partners with Vtape and the Art Gallery of Ontario for a multi-venue retrospective of the work of one of Canada’s most singular cinematic voices. The series runs from March 30 to April 5th.
dir. John Greyson | Canada 1993 | 100 min.
After discovering the Fountain of Youth in 1892, famed Victorian explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton (John Robinson) is now the immortal Chief Taxidermist at Toronto’s Museum of Natural History. He’s working on a new exhibit, the Hall of Contagion, when he learns of the perfect specimen: a young French-Canadian flight attendant called Patient Zero, infamous for being the first person to bring AIDS to North America. Armed with a video camera, Burton seeks out Zero’s friends and family, trying to discover the man behind the “monster.” When Burton encounters the ghost of Zero (Normand Fauteux), however, he soon learns that there is more to the story, and the disease, than the actions of one man. A daringly stylized rebuke to public misconceptions about AIDS — specifically those propagated by Randy Shilts’ flawed history And the Band Played On and the media coverage that followed — Zero Patience is also a wickedly funny and entertaining musical, and its combination of activist zeal and aesthetic playfulness earned Greyson pride of place in the emerging New Queer Cinema movement.
dir. John Greyson | Canada 1987 | 5 min.
Greyson confronts the spreading fear of ADS and their dangerous effects on health and society in this brilliantly funny music video.
Roy & Silo’s Starter Home
dir. John Greyson | Canada 2009 | 5 min.
In an episode derived from a series of installation projects, Greyson chronicles the ups and downs in the relationship between the Central Park Zoo’s beloved same-sex penguin couple Roy and Silo.
Friday, March 30 at 7 p.m.
The screening of Zero Patience is preceded by a reception for the joint launch of the Vtape DVD box set, The Impatience of John Greyson, and the new monograph Zero Patience by Susan Knabe and Wendy Gay Pearson, published by Arsenal Press. Presented by Vtape and This is Not a Reading Series.
dir. John Greyson | Canada 2009 | 100 min.
Beginning as a series of eight gallery installations in 2003, Fig Trees developed into this feature-length operatic docudrama about the lives of AIDS activists Zackie Achmat and Tim McCaskell, who started movements for universal access to anti-retroviral drug treatments in Cape Town and Toronto, respectively. Loosely framing Achmat and McCaskell’s stories through Gertrude Stein’s radical 1928 opera Four Saints in Three Acts, Greyson makes Stein an actual character in the film, kidnapping the two men and forcing them to perform in a tragic opera about their experiences, with supporting vocals provided by such eccentric characters as an amputee busker, St. Teresa of Ávila and an albino squirrel. Brilliantly refashioning the opera as a vehicle of political protest, Fig Trees continues Greyson’s experiments with film form and the fusion of the theatrical and cinematic.
The Sixth Room
dir. John Greyson | Canada 2001 | 5 min.
Four tales of martyrdom are presented in this operatic video short, an excerpt from Greyson’s work-in-progress Fig Trees.
Motet for Amplified Voices
dir. John Greyson | Canada 2004 | 5 min.
A mosaic of political speeches and poetry are read into megaphones by the York Free Speech Committee, as Greyson intercuts images of war and oppression in this documentation of a 2004 solidarity protest at York University.
Monday, April 2 at 6:30 p.m.
dir. John Greyson | Canada 1996 | 100 min.
Based on Marcel Marc-Bouchard’s play Les feluettes and winner of the Genie Award for Best Picture, Lilies tells the story of a love between two teenage boys, cut short by a tragic betrayal. In 1950s Quebec, Bishop Bilodeau arrives at a rural prison to take a dying inmate’s final confession. It is soon revealed that Bilodeau has a history with the man, Simon: 40 years earlier, while Simon (Jason Cadieux) fought desperately against his love for his boyhood friend Vallier (Danny Gilmore), the teenage Bilodeau (Matthew Ferguson) watched jealously, yearning for Simon while condemning his and Vallier’s “sick” relationship. As Simon’s fellow inmates stage a re-enactment of the tragic events that led to Simon’s imprisonment, it soon becomes clear that the play’s the thing that is meant to force Bilodeau to finally confess his own implication in Simon’s supposed crime. Seamlessly fusing past and present through a brilliant Brechtian gambit — the inmates enacting the prison drama carry over their roles into the flashback sequences, playing even the female characters — Greyson creates a passionate, luminescent tale of love and betrayal.
dir. John Greyson | Canada 1998 | 5 min.
Four women in drag perform a dance for the camera, exaggerating everyday “male” gestures as the performance builds to a tragic end.
dir. John Greyson | Canada 2001 | 5 min.
Greyson confronts the “crotch of authority” as he documents the 2001 Summit of the Americas in Quebec. Thursday, April 5 at 6:30 p.m.
Filmmaker Carte Blanche
dir. Derek Jarman | UK 1991 | 90 min.
Sure, we all remember the sexy, anachronistic tableaus: nude rugby scrums, Tilda Swinton’s extraordinary gowns, DV8’s breathtaking choreography, Annie Lennox warbling Cole Porter, the muscle queen’s boa (constrictor). What resonated for us profoundly in 1991, however, was Jarman’s passionate fury, his mapping of incendiary Queer Nation politics onto Christopher Marlowe’s doomed homo love ode. Jarman is inventively ‘true’ to the text, but then uses it to perform a cinematic scorched-earth campaign on Thatcher’s ruthless anti-homo attacks; he literalizes the metaphor when actual Outrage activists, Doc Martens and all, appear as Edward’s defenders against shield-thumping bobbies. It’s by no means a perfect fit — indeed, that’s Jarman’s point, one that threads through all his best work — and this disjunction between street activism versus smug privilege makes Edward II an uneasy, invigorating ride. — Greyson
dir. Colin Campbell | Canada 1983 | 8 min.
Equal parts Jarman, Fassbinder and Anger, White Money is Toronto video artist Campbell’s own cri-de-crotch against the bathhouse raids and censor battles of early-’80s Ontario. A gentle gender warrior of the first order, he met Jarman once at a Berlin breakfast table, where they chatted about poppies and poppers. In this complacent new century of gay wedding patterns, they’re both sorely missed — and profoundly needed. — Greyson
Sunday, April 1 at 4 p.m.
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