Home Video Returns: Media Ecologies of the Past of HIV/AIDS (Web Exclusive)
By Alexandra Juhasz and Ted Kerr 

Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club

Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club

The 2014 Oscars saw a smallish, independent film about AIDS win several prestigious awards that primarily served to recognize the vivid and notable transformation of its two handsome leading men into iconographic, emaciated “AIDS victims” of the 1980s. In small and strange ways leading up to the Oscars, the actors sometimes used this spotlight as a chance to articulate activist sentiments about the current state of the AIDS pandemic, but mostly they did not. More representative was Matthew McConaughey’s Oscar speech, thanking his future self while speaking to his past selves, this better befitting a film that was much more about AIDS as local color or historical backdrop, as well as AIDS as an actor’s greatest challenge, then it was ever about HIV/AIDS as disease, crisis, or current condition. In some respects, Dallas Buyers Club (Jean-Marc Vallée, 2013) joins another Oscar favorite, How to Survive a Plague (David France, 2012), in a recent surge of popular-culture based (re)cognition of HIV/AIDS through a backward looking gaze, one celebrating the triumphs and successes of a dead movement that won the battle against an AIDS that is no longer relevant given the aforementioned triumph. In this vein, we find another Oscar-nominated film of 2014, Philomena (Stephen Frears, 2013), to also be noteworthy in relation to the large place (and time) of the past of AIDS in the contemporary media zeitgeist especially in that it exits, almost entirely, through found footage. In all three mainstream films, as is true for the several other alternative projects retrospectively attending to AIDS that we will also attend to in this piece, we find HIV/AIDS still to be present through Douglas Crimp’s early (1988) and rallying media manifesto that told and foretold how “AIDS does not exist apart from the practices that conceptualize it, represent it and respond to it. We know AIDS only in and through these practices.”1

In our essay, two authors from distinct generations of North Americans who have engaged in HIV/AIDS cultural activism (Alex as videomaker, activist and theorist, Ted as writer, artist, and organizer), will attempt to know and respond to how AIDS is known, yet again, by naming the varying media ecologies and genealogies that have all been built from the very same archive of images of HIV/AIDS—footage both mainstream and activist in its inception—indicating that the past, signified by the home movies of AIDS, in particular, has many cultural functions, and just as many cultural formations. We begin with Matthew McConaughey’s butt (where else!), and use it as our entry into a lengthy discussion of Dallas Buyers Club, as well as nearly a score of past and present alternative AIDS videos that also broker in activist made home-movie-like images of a crisis past—Like a Prayer (DIVA TV, 1989), Keep Your Laws Off My Body (Catherine Saalfield, Zoe Leonard, 1990), Rock Hudson’s Home Movies (Mark Rappaport, 1992), Philadelphia (Jonathan Demme, 1993), Silverlake Life (Peter Friedman, Tom Joslin, 1993), Video Remains (Alexandra Juhasz, 2005), Sex Positive (Daryl Wein, 2008), How to Survive a Plague (2012), Heart Breaks Open (William Maria Rain, 2011), Liberaceón (Chris Vargas, 2011), Sex in an Epidemic (Jean Carlomusto, 2011), We Were Here (David Weissman, 2011), When Did you Figure Out You had AIDS (Vincent Chevalier, 2011), United in Anger (Jim Hubbard, 2012), Untitled, (Jim Hodges, Carlos Marques da Cruz, Encke King, 2012), Bumming Cigarettes (Tiona McClodden, 2012), he said (Irwin Swirnoff, 2013), and the poster campaign "Your Nostalgia is Killing Me" (Vincent Chevalier with Ian Bradley-Perrin, 2013). With Philomena, we return our conversation to more conventional fare before concluding our thoughts upon so many home video returns. 


Ted Kerr: Matthew McConaughey’s butt is resilient. Despite his much discussed weight loss for the film, his backend was buoyant and, I would suggest, supple.

Alexandra Juhasz: I went to see the film a second time to better prepare for our conversation. Matthew’s butt did not impress me much, even on second viewing. However, I was drawn, as if to a train wreck, to Garner’s resilient lips. Unlike McConaughey and Jared Leto, who use their ever more cadaverous bodies as costume and method, Garner has only dowdy glasses, a lab coat, and unfortunate Eighties fashion to signify “serious doctor” against her movie-star good looks. Two emaciated, sexualized, suffering men, small in body but big in shtick, signifying not so much AIDS as difference. One beautiful woman in nerdy glasses signifying sameness.

Kerr: It is interesting how McConaughey and Leto get rewarded for losing weight, and acting sick, while people living with HIV have to fight to be well, appear well, and be recognized. #everydaysurvival

Juhasz: Do see earlier Academy Awards for the actorly hard work of signifying transman and lesbian body, respectively, for Boys Don’t Cry (Kimberly Peirce, 1999) and Monster (Patty Jenkins, 2003).

Kerr: Given all this rocky Oscar history, I still didn’t hate Dallas Buyers Club the way I thought I would.

Juhasz: Agreed: but who cares, really? That’s why I’ve never before written about mainstream AIDS films (but have penned volumes on alternative AIDS media2: it’s a given that they won’t represent in a way that is meaningful to me.

Kerr: My liberal arts college education has made it possible for me to tear the film apart but, as I was watching it, I thought about the people I know who really liked the film: primarily people in their forties and fifties who have been living with HIV for a decade or more, and people my age (thirty-five) and younger, who relished in what the film had to offer—a nondocumentarian approach to HIV of the past. A film that makes people feel is a film that matters.

Juhasz: There are many people in the “HIV/AIDS community” and we all deserve our own representational pleasures and practices. When there was a more robust alternative AIDS media scene in the 1980s and 90s, there was not so much weight put on mainstream fare to shoulder all of our needs. In AIDS TV3, I theorized this kind of “narrowcasting” by and to targeted communities within the larger AIDS activist movement. A contemporary form of this narrowcasting is certainly happening today on Tumblrs, Twitter, and Websites.

Kerr: Right. People currently living with HIV—both over the long term and the newly diagnosed—are finding ways in which to survive, thrive, and build community while looking after themselves and finding ways to look after each other. They self-represent these experiences in private Facebook groups, blogs like Mark King’s “My Fabulous Disease,”4 and initiatives like “Rise Up to HIV” and “No Shame About Being HIV+.”5

Juhasz: What seems an important difference between this work and earlier image production, however, is that the AIDS activist video movement of the 1980s and early 90s did not only use video to self-represent but also to produce a concerted representational effort (across many media) for a larger activist community whereby these micro, “narrow,” or personal claims could also be concentrated, and in many ways unified, thereby taking some control of the media ecology of AIDS (which until that point had been criminally negligent, downright biased, and basically simple-minded), thus resetting the media agenda, vocabulary, and even iconography along activist terms. Importantly, the use of video as integral to AIDS activism is as much the subject of DIVA TV’s Like a Prayer (1989), as is the protest it documents. This self-reflexive tendency within activist HIV/AIDS video—to make videos that are about the relations between AIDS, video, activism, power, and knowledge—continues to this day, most obviously in Untitled, a video constructed only of found footage. The notable absence of this tactic in mainstream fare like Dallas Buyers Club—media that uses past footage with no account of its production, history, makers, or initial uses—is largely what we will be discussing for the remainder of our essay.

When the first AIDS activist (video) movement waned, individuals and agencies still made AIDS media, but this outside a larger movement that allowed such images to interact, build, and sometimes even enter (and change!) the dominant news and art cycles. When we had a more organized AIDS activist (video) community we also put a lot of effort into sharing, screening, documenting, and creating resources around our cultural production: radical distribution. Our individual efforts were in conversation with other work and other makers.

Kerr: The most comparable example today is posterVIRUS,6 a multicity/Web- based campaign that distributes politically charged image collaborations between artists and activists, many of whom are young people living with HIV. Your Nostalgia is Killing Me is one of their more recent projects. But we’ll get to that later, when the conversation turns to the complex spaces of cross-generational conversation and critique.

So maybe it is within this dearth of (mainstream) images that people gravitate toward, and take what they need or can, from Dallas Buyers Club, a film about a person living with HIV, standing up against authorities, “winning,” looking for love and surviving longer than others thought he would.

Juhasz: I suppose it’s about this, sure, but in the “wrong way.” I’ve discussed something like this in relation to Todd Haynes’s films: Poison (1991) was positioned as one of the first feature films to be “about” AIDS and in the “right way.” In that it was authored by an AIDS activist espousing less a depiction of life in the time of AIDS (this is never seen in Poison, or any of Haynes’s films, for that matter) than a representation of the meanings of AIDS. This subject—AIDS as primarily a matter and crisis of signification—had been collectively deduced and articulated by a community of artists, intellectuals, and activists over the preceding years. Haynes contributed to and made popular culture of this vision and version of AIDS, one indebted to contemporaneous activism, art, and theory that understood the crisis of AIDS to be as much one of meaning as medicine. In my contribution to this strain of thought, AIDS TV, I wrote: “A body of AIDS theory suggests that his invisible contagion is the logical culmination of the postmodern conditions, only manageable in representation.” (1995:3)7

Kerr: Today we get Ron Woodruff (Matthew McConaughey), who can be seen as a charming, powerful man. At a time when people living with HIV are increasingly criminalized—adding to HIV related stigma—Ron’s character is refreshing. He is complicated. He is not a demon, nor does he care what most people think about him. For better or worse, he is seen as brave and is rewarded for his tenacity. This does not happen very often for people living with HIV in real life today (or even in media about HIV).

Juhasz: Your depiction of Ron’s likability makes sense to me: yes, he’s a funny, smart, charming, and sometimes attractive antihero. But your last sentence gives me some pause. One of the goals of the first generation of AIDS video activism (in which I played a large part) was to show PWAs as brave (not victims) and being rewarded for their tenacity and power (ACT UP!). Recent AIDS documentaries also sit winningly in this sweet spot: We Were Here and United in Anger take stock of the brave part; while Voices from the Front (Sandra Elgear, Robyn Hutt, David Meieran, 1992), even gets the “winning” part, thus its bigger win in the mainstream context.8

Kerr: Today, in everyday life, people with HIV/AIDS are not considered to be present, and if they are there, it is either as an historical idea of the PWA—gay and frail, or living in Africa, or maybe they are Haitian—or increasingly, people living with HIV are seen as criminals. As the Center for HIV Law and Policy reports, for instance, there is a man in Texas, living with HIV, serving thirty-five years because he spit at a police officer. There are states within the U.S. that consider the body of someone living with HIV a deadly weapon.

There is a lack of everyday representation of people with HIV in contemporary culture. Instead, we see ghosts, heroes, and martyrs. While Dallas Buyers Club didn’t make me think of Philadelphia (Jonathan Demme, 1993) while I was watching it, later I saw the obvious similarities: both tell the story of a white, able-bodied American man living with HIV who must the fight systems to improve his life chances, all with the help of a reluctant outsider—Denzel Washington, the African American lawyer in Philadelphia, and Rayon, the trans co-worker in Dallas Buyers Club.

Tom Hanks in Philadelphia

Tom Hanks in Philadelphia

Juhasz: Precisely. That’s the Mississippi Burning (Alan Parker, 1988) legacy: tales of past American activist struggles that rely on lead characters who represent the dominant culture to tell stories of minoritarian community struggle. When I saw Dallas Buyers Club the second time, I was keenly aware of who else was in the room with me: primarily white senior citizens enjoying a discount matinee. They laughed at every homophobic utterance of McConaughey, and even all the AIDSphobic/homophobic remarks of his former cowboy friends. These tired, well-worn release valves and entry sites worked, giving my fellow viewers much needed respite: places to relax and stay strong so as to inhabit the harder gay places this movie frequently took them.

I actually think this is okay, if you imagine your audience is either cultured senior citizens or the coveted eighteen-year-old-boy demographic, but that gets us back to the earlier conversation about who mainstream movies must speak to and please, and how this, by definition, diverges from the needs of many of us in the complex community of viewers who are also in the HIV/AIDS community. If Dallas Buyers Club can be said to be a film “about AIDS,” this is the AIDS of people who think themselves outside its reach. Those of us inside make of it what we can and will. We have never been a homogenous group. When there were more of us making media, we used to reach out separately to women, or blacks, or urban women of color as discrete communities within the HIV/AIDS community. Now, add to that, mediamakers must factor in time as a key differential, not just “identity.” That is to say, audience members who are long-with-AIDS, those who are newer to it, and those who are long-with-AIDS-activism-and-culture and those who are newer to it, or even those being invited to join for the first time.

Kerr: Yes, there is a strange flattening and circling of time. Released twenty years apart, Dallas Buyers Club is actually about a time before Philadelphia.

Juhasz: Here we begin a conversation about the many pastnesses of AIDS. For some, AIDS’ past it is no different than a honky-tonk bar—a location, a way of dressing or speaking, upon which drama can be placed because AIDS itself has no drama to speak of, as it is over.

Kerr: Well, what about place? Both films derive a sense of identity through a city, Philadelphia and Dallas: the City of Brotherly Love, and the capital of oil and “Who Shot JR?”

Juhasz: I see the craft that both films impressively engage around local costume, culture, and scenery to be related entirely to Matthew McConaughey’s butt or Garner’s lips: Hollywood films are about costumes, sets, props, movie stars—spectacle—as much as story. FYI, the queer feature film I produced, The Watermelon Woman (Cheryl Dunye, 1996), was also set in Philly. We have a scene where one of the characters says “The City of Brotherly Love,” and Cheryl adds “or sisterly affection.” In our film, these streets are replete with African-American history, family, and community: the backdrop holds information that main character needs. Not true for Dallas.

Like for The Watermelon Woman, much independent film and video enlivens the dead or past places it visits through charged connection. I think this is what many contemporary activist artists are accomplishing in relation to their uses of past AIDS cultural production. For instance, in Chris Vargas’ Liberaceón, 9 Vargas first green-screens himself onto a found television special “Liberace: A Valentine Special” (1979) as well as onto other garish, gawdy found backgrounds of Liberace’s “private” life, cut it seems, out of celebrity magazines (Liberace’s kitchen, pool, piano, and death bed). He learns of Rock Hudson’s death from AIDS from a sampled ABC News obituary composited into a golden, vintage Toshiba TV console. Tom Brokaw follows with President Reagan’s paltry response. From the vantage place of a complexly rendered past city of TV, Vargas re-narrates, re-peoples, and re-embodies Liberace’s dying days (including a failed assassination attempt of Ronald Reagan), by playing Liberace himself.

While Vargas also uses the past (home) movies of men who suffered and died of HIV/AIDS as backdrop, the effect is radically different from other movie places built on past images: Philadelphia, Dallas, or the masterfully refabricated homes of Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra (2013). First off, of course, we are made to see that this is beautifully rendered compositing (not a seamless and expensive remake): a self-reflexive use of montage that shows its seams, and speaks volumes through juxtaposition, through which Vargas, a contemporary transman, makes and finds deep personal and political resonances of his own by performing on top of (and thereby opening) the campy closets of the seventies and eighties. But then, Vargas also insists on inserting a political climax on to a representational practice that had once held only secrets, spangles, and sappy endings: “embellishing details from his life and spinning them into a mythic origin story of the in/famous direct-action group, ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power).” 10 Vargas-cum-Liberace makes a deathbed request of his lover, Cary James (Matthew Momchilov), emboldening him towards active participation in the birth of militant AIDS activism, as always, of course, represented by the very images of action we had shot of ourselves to document our present while creating an archive for just this very future use. “You must build an international movement to demand justice, research, treatment, and a cure. And don’t let my story be reduced to some sappy melodrama…and don’t let any tired straight actor looking to go gay for Oscar play me in a Hollywood movie.” Vargas concludes with a mix of images of ACT UP demos with Liberace’s rings, and other bling, to imagine this idol’s place in an actual future that Vargas is willing to credit, in part, to Liberace, not to mark a finished (if more radical) past, but as a new place for his dreams of Liberce’s (and our own) liberation.

Kerr: There is a school of thought that Serene Jones discusses in her Trauma and Grace11 that suggests for a group to begin to recover from collective trauma those who suffered the trauma must tell their story, others must hear the story, and together the storytellers and those who listen must come together to create a new story. The new story is the start of the healing. When Vargas places his body in Liberace’s world and then places it along side ACT UP, he is (re)establishing stories that have been told, stories have been heard, and that when these experiences are remixed together, something hopeful—and productive—can emerge. And while I find this all very exciting, I guess the question I have is, is the past really that appealing?

Juhasz: Of course it’s appealing. Nostalgia is a captivating feeling. As you know too well, Ted, there is much debate within the contemporary AIDS activist community about what, who, and how such a feeling might motivate. 12 The mainline position is, and was, that nostalgia drains a community of anger and energy. 13 I have written elsewhere 14 that certain artistic uses of AIDS nostalgia might fuel conversation, community, and future activism. But I think there’s another use as well, returning to your friends who liked Dallas Buyers Club. I might imagine that some of these people need to remember through Ron because they don’t often get the chance. And that’s cool, too, when coupled, as we’ve already mentioned, with ways to access analysis of the present, and goals or dreams for a better future.

Kerr: While watching Dallas Buyers Club, I did think about the recent AIDS community response to documentaries released in the last few years: How to Survive a Plague, United in Anger, and We Were Here. 15 This questioning about return was especially powerfully expressed by Vincent Chevalier and Ian Bradley Perrin in a work they did for posterVIRUS, “Your Nostalgia is Killing Me.”

The piece seems to suggest that there is a price to pay for all this looking back, especially for people diagnosed after 1996 (and its introduction of affordable anti-viral cocktails for those with access to health care), as well as for the newly sero-converted. Their poster—a digital rendering of a (queer) child’s bedroom circa the late 1990s, outfitted with the greatest hits from AIDS culture—is a battle cry for the present. They have spoken about how, as two young men living with HIV today, they meet people their own age who have a better sense of AIDS of the past than they do of AIDS now. In an interview I did with them for Visual AIDS, where I work as the Program Manager, they explained how the poster comes out of both their experience of AIDS images being passed around online without either attention to their past context or respect of the present, and an awareness around how the past can “foreclose” any conversation around the present. 16 When they say, “Your nostalgia is killing me,” they mean it! All of the cultural fetishization of the past of AIDS that we’ve been discussing so far (both alternative and mainstream) makes it almost impossible for people to conceive of HIV in the now. That in turn makes it harder for people to consider what needs to be done now in response to the ongoing crisis. But, as the poster circulated online, many long term members of ACT UP took offence, feeling as though they were being attacked. Working with the New York Public Library, Visual AIDS hosted a public discussion about the poster, nostalgia, and AIDS, resulting in an intense dialogue around the various experiences of AIDS that are happening simultaneously. For me, as someone who thinks more about AIDS in the present, I was shocked by the ways in which older members of ACT UP were unwilling to support young people as they fought for their right to be seen within the context of their own HIV experiences.

I think here of the David Lowenthal quote that Lucas Hilderbrand uses in his essay “Retroactivism” 17 : “What pleases the nostalgist is not just the relic but his own recognition of it, not so much the past itself as its supposed aspirations, less the memory of what actually was than of what was once thought possible.” Holding on to memory, history, and nostalgia—all three being different things—provides a range of means to hold on to hope and loss.

Juhasz: Critically, while each of the powerful activist documentaries you named is decidedly nostalgic—about strong feelings for lost friends, lost movements, lost community, and also for hope about these things (a future oriented feeling)—DBC is not nostalgic in the least. It supposes and feels no connection to that time or that rough and tumble community. What’s past is past, what’s Southern is weird, what’s HIV is beside the point. We care about that man because he’s the lead.

Meanwhile, look at Vargas: he loves Liberace. This is why Vargas’s piece also feels different and hopeful, even as it is set in a past composed from montaged histories and death. In this case, loving, self-reflexive, political homage produces a different mood and meaning than nostalgia.

Kerr: For sure Vargas’s piece is not nostalgic. It is part of a very different project. Made in 2011, it is for me a push back against something I call “the second silence,” the cultural quietness around HIV/AIDS that took over soon after the introduction of meds in 1996 and that lasted up until 2008 with the emergence of films like Sex Positive (Daryl Wein, 2008) and Liberaceón in which people that were part of the early response to HIV in America, and those who were not, began to look back and begin to try to make sense of the unseen past. The case could be made that Vargas’s Liberaceón is a result of what I call “AIDS Emergence,” a period of deeply focused research, curiosity, glee, sadness, and investigation many contemporary queers will find themselves in as they begin or continue to articulate our/themselves as queer thinkers, artists, and activists. For some it will be a period of time, for others it will be something that is part of their ongoing practice.

The early response to AIDS in America is an important and in many ways inspiring story. It is one of the few highly legible stories in which queers “win.” But Liberaceón is not a simple celebration of the past, rather it is a very self-aware, positive, and creative exploration of the past that puts forward a narrative that queer people can and do make a difference. A sissy musician with AIDS can not only attempt to stand up to his friend—who happens to be the leader of the free world—he can also have a hot boyfriend and inspire future generations. Ideally, as the second silence is further eroded and more people experience a period of AIDS Emergence, people will not only look back at that important time, they will also begin to question the ways that film represent that time. What does media tell us about what changed the course of AIDS? Do films suggest it was just a group of smart young gay white men? Or a diverse community response? Was it empathy and love? Capitalism? All of the above and much more?

Juhasz: In the early history of the AIDS crisis, smart young gay men and their allies mounted signification in tandem with direct and other kinds of action and aligned with other communities (care, organizing, community-based education) to change the meanings and practices of AIDS and, ultimately, to muster capitalism, science, and legislation to find, make, and sell drugs that helped (some/those who can afford them). This was deeply informed by other activist movements of the past, and those that are ongoing, such as the civil rights movement and women’s health. By the way, many of those smart young gay men had their hands in, near, and close by capital: one of the reasons AIDS (cultural) activism was so successful.

Kerr: That’s how we can say that Dallas Buyers Club is not really about AIDS. The film is a libertarian critique of government from a capitalist, white supremacist point of view. It uses the historical moment of the early North American AIDS crisis to put forth a suggestion that the only remedy to an ineffective government is unregulated capitalism. As its audience, we are led to believe that it is a film about AIDS through the props that serve as nods to early American AIDS activism—the ACT UP T-shirt, the Gran Fury poster. It felt to me as if these were clearly signals to those within the ongoing AIDS movement that the filmmakers “got it,” without trying to get the political, ideological, and social foundations that produced, and were written into these images and icons.

Juhasz: Here’s where my “AIDS-media ecology” at last enters our conversation. By this I mean a film’s coherent, interlocked uses, systems, technologies, and appropriations of past AIDS signification. If we want to think through how Dallas Buyers Club is “about AIDS,” it turns out that we mostly see AIDS only as two bodies, and these are hypervisible: the weak, gross, skeletal but somehow lovable costumes of AIDS worn by McConaughey and Leto. The only other signification of AIDS comes by way of rare but carefully placed snatches of media: posters, T-shirts, television news, newspapers, journals and magazines. These represent, in equal parts, and with no privileging: 1) AIDS activism (through our home movies), 2) AIDS science, and 3) mainstream journalistic reporting. These media set the scene and are the backdrop for the bodies, who are AIDS. There is neither analysis, context, or depth to their use. So, in counterdistinction, it is an opening up, or into, or against flat images that stand for the past (and hold its surfaces but without their linked motivations and meanings), where contemporary activist work marks its more radical relations to past images of HIV/AIDS. When Chevalier and Bradley-Perrin use similar images to adorn their imagined past walls, they do so with anger, critique, and disconcerting disconnection followed up by community conversation.

Kerr: Right, Dallas Buyers Club uses the same images but with no understanding that these signifiers have shifting and diverse meanings. In the film, there is an idea that AIDS is a thing, or a look, or one way of being (sick and weak and skinny), whereas for me, aside from my understanding that HIV is a virus, I function—even as an HIV-negative gay man—with an idea that AIDS is an assemblage: a constellation of things, processes, and experiences (including those of the past and present) having to live alongside and in connection with each other. It is this idea that allows Untitled 18 (Hodges, Marques da Cruz, King, 2012) to work that very same footage so differently. Instead of a talk Hodges was commissioned to give at Artspace in San Antonio on the billboard project of artist Felix Gonzalez Torres, he collaborated with Marques da Cruz and King to make this sixty-minute montage of found footage, ranging from news clips, activist video, avant-garde films, educational videos, and sitcoms, to put the viewer in Gonzalez-Torres’s “room” (yet another resonance to the private but political bedroom in the Your Nostalgia is Killing Me poster and in Irwin Swirnoff’s and Catherine Sallfield and Zoe Leonard’s films, yet to be discussed). I see the film as a people’s history of the last thirty years in America where AIDS is written as the core. It is a visualization of how one can see the violence, tenacity, and creativity of America through the lens of AIDS. But it is also a collection of moments, truths, images, and impacts that, when placed along side each other, add up to the ongoingness of AIDS.

Juhasz: While I readily agree that Untitled is an amazing use and depiction of the past of America, where AIDS (images) function as a key to our history, the video also focuses, almost entirely, upon the experience and images of gay men. It cuts through the archive, pulling certain threads into focus. In counterdistinction to the normative mode you described earlier where AIDS is never seen in our present, Hodges looks back and sees it everywhere. This is connected to what we were hoping to do at that time, when we were making these early images: to assert, representationally, that AIDS impacted all aspects of American life.

Kerr: What is interesting to me is Untitled’s assemblage of footage comes at a time when the technique is being used in many and various ways (queer and not so), most popularly in Lana Del Ray’s mainstream debut, Video Games 19 2011) and more intimately in Irwin Smirnoff’s film, he said.20 Smirnoff’s film slideshows a dreamy constellation of moments in one queer man’s life: a life full of desire, sickness, influence, memory, landscape, paranoia, and softness. It reminds me a of a moment in photography that began maybe ten years ago, best understood as coming after or being influenced by Nan Goldin, Wolfgang Tillmans, Cass Bird, Ryan McGinley, and Lina Scheynius and instigated by gay men born in the late Seventies and early Eighties who maybe did not grow up with the Internet, but grew into adulthood with it. It is best exemplified by photographers Quinnford and Scout (now Oisin Share and Colin Quinn), Zachary Ayotte, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Steven Beckley, the early filmwork of Jim Verburg (For a Relationship, 2007) and projects like Butt Magazine, Original Plumbing magazine, I Want Your Love (Travis Mathews, 2012), and Weekend (Andrew Haigh, 2011) and even the music video for Holopaw’s Dirty Boots (Adam Baran, 2014). For these artists, the feedback loop of themselves is rooted in images of the past, and present-day porn. The work they create and share is for them, their visual vocabulary, communicating a desire to be seen: here we are now, in all our sunburst erotic everydayness, in our banality and vulnerability. These are images of young men who are aware that they will be able to/can get married or fight in wars for their country; but most likely will not do either. Rather they are making breakfast, hanging out on the couch, staring at each other. They are trying to make sense of the world around them based on their own terms, the politic they find themselves in as young gay men. AIDS is part of this, and this is embodied in Swirnoff’s film where HIV/AIDS both frames and is erased into daily life.

Juhasz: This is a similar construction to Rock Hudson’s Home Movies, a much earlier intervention into the AIDS home-movie landscape, where Mark Rappaport also assembles movie footage, again of Hudson, into adjacencies by substituting these public images for the gay home movies that could never have been taken, all the while writing himself into the picture (as did Vargas) and then speaking his overt analysis about homophobia, HIV/AIDS politics, and gay images on to these images. Swirnoff is the lucky queer son who need not hide in (nor be uncloseted from) his own home movies.

Kerr: Yes, and his is a film about AIDS, and the inheritance of gay men born after the start of the epidemic in other ways, too. Many feel plagued by the plague that is now at a remove (given that HIV, as we discussed, is not part of their everyday lives as it might have been if they were born fifteen years earlier), and yet a fear of the body and what it can transmit lingers as a trace of another time and other deaths: the oppression that would have existed without HIV/AIDS is articulated through HIV/AIDS and its absence.

Films like Swirnoff’s that are about an embodied and integrated life with HIV in the present are few and far between. The film powerfully and beautifully illustrates the ways in which, even coming of age within the second silence, AIDS remains a preoccupation. AIDS is. And yet, silence accumulates and overwhelms.

There is a common refrain in the HIV/AIDS community that young people don’t talk, think, or know about AIDS. But that isn’t true. It is just communicated in ways that may not be recognizable or legible to those who come from, or need, a more visible experience of AIDS and its activism. But this, too, is changing, in part through AIDS Emergence. There is a small crop of new films dealing with HIV as it is lived now such as Heart Break Open (William Maria Rain, 2011) and Bumming Cigarettes (Tiona McClodden, 2012). Heart Breaks Open is a feature set in the Pacific Northwest that tells the story of a young gay man dealing with sero-conversion. It follows him as his diagnosis provokes new friendships, ends old relationships, and initiates a re-evaluation of self. Bumming Cigarettes is a short film where a young lesbian goes in for an HIV test and, while waiting for her results, befriends an older man who has been living with HIV long-term. Both films take as their starting points relationships that are challenged by cheating, and while they are entrenched in the present, in both films HIV is given what seems an almost dated 101 treatment with STI/HIV counselors who explain the virus, the test, and what the results could mean in real-time, literally “clinical” detail.

Juhasz: Yes, those realist, activist, HIV counseling sessions in the middle of what were otherwise “narratives” were exciting, disconcerting, and really evocative for me (there’s also one in Liberaceón, although treated differently, with that film’s more jaded or distanced style). We had also put those scenes into nearly every AIDS video that we made in the early years of AIDS activism. At that time, we were countering the mainstream media’s mis- (and non-) information about how to protect oneself and one’s lovers against HIV infection. The presence of this tactic so many years later is at once sad, and also what seems most overtly “activist” about these two new movies, even as it comes in a highly “AIDS Inc.” sort of environment, and within an entirely interpersonal framework.

Kerr: As someone who came up in the AIDS/nonprofit world, the films felt very familiar. I know both the language of counselors and the aesthetics of underfunded AIDS Service Organizations. Heart Breaks Open nails a place, and it’s a decidedly different one from all those perfectly rendered pasts we’ve been seeing as backdrops! Rather, it captures the desperation and community focus of well-intentioned and sometimes floundering service organizations, places of both anxiety and hope. Bumming Cigarettes uses the testing site as a place of transformation. While the viewer does not find out the character’s results, we know that she is changed just for having had the experience, primarily due to the conversation with an older, perhaps imaginary but certainly visionary man who has been living long-term with HIV.

What is interesting about these films is that while they are rooted in the present and also its contemporary politics—such as trans-visibility and neo-community accountability—when it comes to HIV/AIDS, they are primarily concerned with past, existing, and ongoing issues rather than diving into contemporary issues such as PrEP and PEP (established but under-discussed drug regimen prevention methods), or HIV Criminalization (the ways in which people living with HIV are unjustly being criminalized for having the virus).

Juhasz: Well, maybe the cost of the second silence is the lack of circulation of AIDS tapes from the Eighties and Nineties, and so contemporary filmmakers feel as though they have to start from scratch. My own Video Remains assumes that young gay men of color are in some ways back at square one in terms of their understanding of the past of HIV/AIDS and its relation to their contemporary experiences. In my contribution to AIDS Crisis Revisitation, I also make assemblages of my own early images blended (unseamlessly) with contemporary experiences of and conversations about HIV/AIDS. I try to take account of how we went so quickly from prolific creations and dissemination about our own experiences and analyses of HIV/AIDS, to silence, and then to perhaps another way of looking at that quiet and talk that is both nostalgic and active.

Kerr:  You were there a little earlier, Alex, but there’s been a boom of AIDS Crisis Revisitation since you made Video Remains in 2005. This is exemplified through the creation and reception of documentary films like How To Survive a Plague, United in Anger, We Were Here and Last Address (Ira Sachs, 2010) museum exhibitions like AIDS in New York: The First 5 Years (New York Historical Society, 2013) and Why We Fight: Remembering AIDS Activism (New York Public Library, 2013); recent retrospectives on Gran Fury (80WSE, NYU 2012), General Idea (Musée d’Art Moderne, 2011), and Frank Moore (Grey Art Gallery, NYU, 2012); smaller gallery shows such as the remount of Rosalind Solomon’s exhibition, Portraits in the Time of AIDS, 1988 (Bruce Silverstein Gallery, 2013); books such as Fire In The Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz by Cynthia Carr and The AIDS Generation: Stories of Survival and Resilience (Perry Halkitis, 2013); and the re-emergence of AIDS activism through new collectives (such as QUEEROCRACY) and the revitalization of preexisting groups (AIDS ACTION NOW in Toronto, and ACT UP in New York and San Francisco). On screens, walls, and in discourse, the past’s mass deaths and community responses are remembered through culled and curated video/ film footage, photos, memories and ephemera that come from personal collections as well as individual and institutional archives (such as the NYPL and the Fales Library & Special Collections, NYU). Footage of pre-re/gentrified urban centers populated by passionate twenty-somethings fighting for their lives conjure up memories and trauma for some, a possible displaced nostalgia for those who were not alive at the time, and a desire for many to be able to return to such an engaged moment (without the loss). It is a movement of media making that attempts to look back and both historicize what happened and make sense of it.

I think of Sex Positive as the first film of the AIDS Crisis Revisitation. It was made by Daryl Wein, a young straight man who had no real connection to HIV/AIDS beyond being alive at that time; he was just amazed that his girlfriend lived next door to Richard Berkowitz, one of the men who basically invented the practice of gay men using condoms, what would go on to be called “safer sex.” In the film, Wein works to communicate the past to those who were not there, provide footage and a sense of memory for those who were there, and then consider what the impact of the past is on the present, lingering on the idea that the past has been forgotten.

Juhasz: And then, critically, this story was revisited yet again by first generation AIDS activist videomaker Jean Carlmusto in her recent Sex in an Epidemic (2011). In her film, the same story (of Berkowitz and others) is addressed in the analytical, political, I-voice of both Jean and the larger AIDS activist video community for whom she often speaks and from whose (her own) footage she draws.

Kerr: Yes, that leads me to think about a different kind of revisitation: the ongoing production of early mediamkers like yourself, Carlomusto, James Wentzy, Jim Hubbard, and others. How do you think of your revisitation as something different from that of Dallas Buyers Club?

Juhasz: We make films now because we are alive and we were once activist videomakers. The idea of generation and the fact of age obscures that both we and AIDS are still here. Sure, we were in the past, and we are of the past, and we want to remember and learn from the past but we are also of the present: i.e., this conversation now! The past is now in us and we speak it and embody it whether we choose to or not but, given that we are in the present, we continue to make work that adapts to the changing conditions, times, and places of AIDS. I do not want to reign in history, like it’s over and it’s mine; I want to know it better inside myself and my community so as to share it, learn from it, and use it as a catapult from which to continue to inspire, feel, and converse (like Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History).

Kerr: Given this complicated lineage and legacy, sometimes I prefer films not about AIDS at all, but that include AIDS, like Joshua Sanchez’s Four (2012)21, based on Christopher Shinn’s play of the same name, or Philomena, the second recent mainstream film that we are going to look at in some detail. In his study of prisoner archives, Michel Foucault notes that the only thing that ensures that the men he studied were remembered was their violent relationship with the state.22 Had they never gone to prison, no archives of their lives would have been made or would have remained. I am applying this line of thinking to the lives of people impacted by AIDS in the Eighties and Nineties who, for the most part, if not for their HIV diagnosis (something we can argue is a violent relationship to the state), would be forgotten. It is their relationship to AIDS that ensured that they were videotaped, photographed, and remembered.

In talking about activist video, it is this footage that has become the archive of those we have lost to HIV—the activist recordings, stills, and home movies—and that is now populating the iconography and testimony of the current AIDS Crisis Revisitation. This is illustrated in an unlikely film, Philomena, the story of an Irish woman who had to give up her son to Catholic nuns who put him up for adoption with an American family. Fifty years later, Philomena, with some help, goes to America to find her son, only to discover he had died decades earlier of complications related to AIDS and was buried at the orphanage where he was born.

Steve Coogan and Judi Dench in Philomena

Steve Coogan and Judi Dench in Philomena

Juhasz: DBC is often overtly homophobic and transphobic or at least is about people who are. Philomena is in this respect quite sweet. Everyone loves a gay guy, even Catholic Philomena, and even the nuns who are seen in home-movie footage gently caring for him at his most Dallas Buyers Club-esque: skinny and riven with lesions. We didn’t allow ourselves to show those lesions in our home movies. But we saw those lesions on our loved ones, and they were much more gruesome, painful, and shocking than the nun-friendly ones depicted in Philomena. Also, of course, we engaged in pretty ongoing activism against the Catholic church’s cruelty in relation to AIDS dogma and PWAs in their midst.

Kerr:  I think this soft-focus view is very much how the film operates. In Philomena, the audience sees the young son both through Philomena’s memory, rendered in the same treatment as the rest of the film—and then, once she’s lost him to the nuns, through projections: first of home-movie footage, then videotape. These projections begin when Philomena “opens the window” on a flight to America (in pursuit of her son). We see a reel of a toddler coming off a plane; a still from this film appears later in the movie on a computer screen. This introduction of projected image comes a few scenes after we see—through flashback—that a nun gave Philomena a brownie-type photo of her son. Having footage, be it moving image or still, is powerful, it keeps a story alive.

Philomena, in many ways, also owes a debt to the film Philadelphia. Demme’s film ends with home-movie footage of the young Andrew (played throughout the film by Tom Hanks) playing on the beach. This comes after his character not only suffers the humiliations of HIV, but also from a lengthy court battle. Andrew dies in the end, and we are invited into the familial to watch old home movies of Andrew—in simpler times, before AIDS, before the court case and “before” he was gay. A haunting Neil Young song plays over the home movies: a carefree boy playing just out of reach of the beautiful but dangerous ocean. The success of the movie, and of this home movie treatment, has created a trope: childhood footage of a cute boy child = gay and/or imminent tragedy. So, with director Frear’s use of home-movie video of Philomena’s son, the audience is prepared on some level for his homosexuality and death.

Juhasz: Rock Hudson’s Home Movies shatters that trope altogether. Rappaport presumes that Hollywood footage of closeted (but known) homosexuals become the home-movie footage they could never have taken (as recognizably queer youth). As is true in Liberaceón, it is Rappaport’s loving reapproporiaton, staged through his literal insertion into or onto these images, that marks a gay connection (not a sappy displacement) to images of beautiful, talented (closeted) gay men who will, yes, eventually die of AIDS. Their work marks an identification and an adjacency across time and place, but not a distancing, as each awkwardly but with familiarity inhabits the other man’s frame. Moreso, both provide another gloss through political and intellectual analysis of these images, thereby freeing them from their purely melodramatic hold on the psyche, while allowing that to resonate in other ways.

It is this queer conjoining of home movie, political action, media self-awareness, and AIDS that both Silverlake Life and Keep Your Laws off my Body also so beautifully demonstrate, albeit with entirely different tactics and somewhat different aims. Silverlake Life is a politicized home movie, where the project of self-aware, shared, self-representation for a public that won’t otherwise see (AIDS, gay men) seeps into every video frame of daily recorded life and mundane death of AIDS. Keep Your Laws, meanwhile, knocks the political against the home movie of lesbian sex and domesticity through use of abrasive cuts between activist footage documenting protest against laws that would want to make the loving and sexy activities caught in the home movies illegal in the eyes and laws of the state. The hard cut functions like the compositing within a shot we’ve discussed already, in this case with radical text composited onto the screen, and the recurrent use of a siren, to pepper analysis and an awareness of the corrupt power of the state onto the images of actions and adulations of the past.

Kerr:  Philomena contains no such direct analysis. Rather, it is more concerned with moving on. As the tale of Philomena progresses, so, too, does technology. Projections of the son go from 1960s Super-8 film to 1980s video, and with that comes sound. The first audio we hear is the son's boyfriend saying off-camera, “Your chariot awaits. A yellow one,” as we see a whale of a car on the video screen.

Juhasz: This is only one such technology “size” joke that the mainstream movies make to insure distance from (and disdain for) the past in which their movies take place. Dallas Buyers Club is entirely set in the past of AIDS—its story takes place from 1985–1992. This is signified by the smug use of audio cassettes, a HUGE cell phone the size of a pineapple prominently displayed on a airline ticket counter (as big as McConaughey is small), as well as through old newspapers, scientific reports, and TV news. While Garner catches some of the latest AIDS news about TAG (the subject of How To) on her ricky-ticky Eighties TV, she’d rather look at Ron’s Mom’s painting of a flower, departing from AIDS signification entirely and returning to a pure world of nostalgic mother love: a link to Philomena’s AIDS media ecology. For, Philomena’s past is a/the narrative film. Her past is not media. It is stories. This is a film about stories—the church’s, the news media’s, and real peoples’—and the connection between story, goodness, simplicity, and belief. It is not about AIDS, but uses AIDS, as does the journalist, as a “good story” that will end in either triumph (the activists or meds prevail; the son lives) or loss (the PWAs die). This is also the media ecology of We Were Here: “excellent story wise”; “perfect for the weekend section”; very sad, although ultimately triumphant.

 Philomena is a story about the power of pathos, and that is expressed through Philomena, who lets us feel and teaches the journalist to feel, too. The film ends victoriously because she forgives the church and feels better, as do we. At this moment, AIDS has left this media ecology entirely.

Kerr:  Right. By then the film is more about miracle of footage, what it reveals. If the use of home video has not tipped off the audience to the fate of the son, the revelation of his homosexuality and his boyfriend comes through footage. There is a photo of the son (grown) hugging a man with a beard. Philomena does not bat an eyelash upon hearing her son is gay. Later, when asked, she says, “As soon as I saw him in the dungarees I knew.” Cut to a projection of the son in dungarees. The actual footage (the photo) and Phil’s projections (as seen on screen through video aesthetic) have become one in the same.

Juhasz: Speaking of miracles… Stop the Church is a remarkable activist video that sits in the very same cultural landscape that does Philomena, except with chops and self-awareness. Both films link the Catholic church’s violent, punitive, prohibitive decrees and actions about abortion and AIDS, but only Stop the Church (and the protest of the same name) do so with an overt political analysis and action attached. It seems pretty obvious but important to state that the mainstream movies we’ve discussed must soften their political commitments and connections while activist work sharpens, focuses, and centers upon rigorous, overt analysis that is compounded in power through its adjacency to images.

Kerr: Sometimes, you only need to shift context to get that sharp focus you mention. When Did You Figure Out You Had AIDS? 23 is both an actual home video and a later work of art from the aforementioned artist Vincent Chevalier. In the video that he made with a childhood friend when they were preteens in the Canadian suburbs, he plays a straight man who, after finding out he has AIDS after a bad case of the hiccups, appears on a talk show to discuss how he is dealing with death. Chevalier found the home movie nearly a decade after it was made, and after his diagnosis with HIV. By (re)playing it now on Vimeo, he harks back to his childhood sense of being overwhelmed by AIDS and yet not having a space or place to talk about it. As kids, they made the video and only now, after the second silence, is it able to be viewed and understood.

Juhasz: Part Tarnation (Jonathan Caouette, 2003), part my own Video Remains!

Kerr: Now we’re really moving around in (representational) time! I know we’re playing fast and loose, but that’s part of what we’re thinking about, right? The establishing shot of Video Remains captures—what seems to me—a beautiful slice of what was once normal for you, in your past. Watching (and taping) as your best friend affixes an AIDS sticker to your shared front door as you follow him in to the apartment. He in tight shorts, you in a light summer dress, both easy in each other’s presence during a time when friends were dying and the world you thought you were entering was being turned upside down. Video Remains is a snapshot of Jim, your friend, a successful off-Broadway actor (a member of the Ridiculous Theatrical Company) and a sometimes go-go dancer, and a man who died of AIDS; and it is a snapshot of a time, and a relationship.

Juhasz: A queer romance, to be sure. And note that there are two stickers on the door: Abortion rights and AIDS activism, these linked through a shared home, analysis, video, and politics, just as in Stop the Church.

Kerr: Video Remains is rooted in your bond, and maybe—if I understand it right—a sense of duty to your friend Jim. You love him, you saw him for who he was, and you wanted to create a document of him—and maybe of that time—that you could share with the future.

Juhasz: We all have a duty to everyone who died, but I had footage of Jim… and abiding love. But Video Remains is for the present as much as the future. Unlike the mainstream films that fix the pastness of AIDS, I was interested in rubbing the past against the present (with the footage of the young men and women in the MPowermnet group at APLA, of me with my stylist Michael talking about the past in the video’s present, and through conversations with my video activist friends who were also thinking and talking with me about the resonance of the past to the present.) This rub occurs to press something new into being (an Eisensteinian montage of attractions!) The project is future oriented not in that it wants people in the future to know that Jim, and so many others, once existed and also died, but because it is a call to (re)turn to activism: which is future-oriented because it is founded in a critique of the present and a hope that the world will improve because of our analysis and related action.

Kerr: Video Remains makes possible a productive conversation around the commitments to the past that many people who have been living with and/or intensely impacted by HIV/AIDS may be living with, while also making space to talk about AIDS now.

Early in the footage of the youth talking to Pato Hebert, from APLA, you can be heard off camera talking to them, explaining you have been doing AIDS activism for a while and then wondering out loud if your experience and stories are relevant to them. This seems like an act of generosity that not everyone performs. I am thinking here of Crimp’s Mourning and Militancy and how in your actions with the youth you are refuting his thesis, and yet in action you are upholding it—you will honor the dead, defend their memory, and speaking truth to power about the government inaction that resulted and results in mass death.

The youth never respond. There is no footage of you talking about ACT UP, or Jim, or WAVE (The Women’s AIDS Video Enterprise with whom you made your doctoral and AIDS activist work, We Care: A Video for Care Providers of People Affected by AIDS, 1995). It never becomes an intergenerational teach- in. Instead it becomes and remains a platform for these kids to talk openly and honestly about AIDS to each other.

Juhasz: I think about montage, again, as serving as the “teach-in” that doesn’t happen in real time; just as I suggested it works in Liberaceón, Keep Your Laws Off My Body, and Rock Hudson’s Home Movies. Montage allows the dead and the alive, the here and the then, to cohabit video space based on affinities, analyses, and shared future goals that could not be experienced together in real life, but can through activist media.

Kerr: Maybe that is why I am drawn to Video Remains. It makes possible the conversation so many people want to have about AIDS but are finding nearly impossible because of films like Dallas Buyers Club. Video Remains, completed in 2005 with footage from 1993, is about AIDS, and is about the past. So here is this work that is about remembering but you not disallowing the present.

But I don’t want us to get stuck in a conversation where we are comparing DBC and VR. They are different. I think it is more productive to talk about your term “alternative AIDS video” and think through AIDS cultural production with this term in mind. In AIDS TV you provide details on alternative AIDS media: “First, it is one in a history of committed film and video movements that have come about because of rapid changes occurring simultaneously within technology and ideology. Second, like these earlier movements, the alternative AIDS media positions itself in a dialogical relationship with what it perceives to be dominant culture and dominant media. Third, the movement itself is as complex as the dominant culture to which it responds.”

Juhasz: Perhaps this is a matter or “ownership” and “rights.” I put these words in scare quotes because I don’t mean them in the legal or capitalist sense, but in the emotional, familial, and historical ones. In Video Remains (as is true for Jean Carlomusto in Sex in an Epidemic, or Jim Hubbard in United in Anger, or DIVA TV or Catherine Saalfield and Zoe Leonard or Irwin Swirnoff or Vincent Chevalier) we literally reuse our own home movies. Then, in the sense where communities of shared values and politics produce meanings and culture together, you have people like Vargas or Rappaport laying claim to home movies from our broader community and shared (activist) history. This resonates in the work in ways that are meaningful, producing strong emotions beyond pathos and distance. But, I’ve also been trying to explain that activist video must, by definition, then leave the place of the personal (and the melodramatic) and make further connections beyond personal pain and grief and even identification to both systematic explanations for this pain, and an activist response. I fear that much current activist work, sitting as it does on the Internet and made to express an individual’s experience, pain, and even analysis does not make the last two moves: connecting to a larger community, and to a set of possible activist responses.

Kerr: Thinking of that, this seems like the right time to introduce one last term into the conversation. In his book Remix 24, Lawrence Lessing turns file into a metaphor for media, suggesting media can be broken down into that which is “read only” (a book, a sitcom, for the most part) versus that which is “read/write” (a video game, many Websites). It seems to me Video Remains, is “read/write.” It is meant to be open source in maybe a way people are not use to thinking about right now.

Juhasz: Video Remains has a profound impact on a small community of viewers: people who lived through AIDS activism and loss, and those ready to make a connection to analysis and action around their own digitized remains. In places of radical reception (community screenings, film festivals, home showings) conversations do occur “across generation,” about loss, anger, memory, and activism.

Kerr: In AIDS TV you write, “alternative AIDS video is as much about forging community as it is about constructing identity, about how identities are turned into community because of AIDS through video.” So, at its core, alternative AIDS video is read/write. I am thinking here not only of the footage captured by James Wentzy, and DIVA TV, but also of the work of WAVE and of specific videos like Target City Hall (DIVA TV, 1989) and Like A Prayer. They are read/write. Not only because I think the footage that make up the work was up for grabs and has been used again, but also because there was an intention that the films were to act as catalysts.

Similarly Avram Finkelstein has suggested the poster “Silence = Death,” created by The Silence = Death Project, a collective he began, was intended not as logo (which it often is understood as for ACT UP), but an idea, and equation intended to be rebroadcasted, retooled, and revisited. It is the process that matters.

I am also thinking of the AIDS Anarchive, a project by curators and researchers Aimar Arriola and Nancy Arin, that aim to counter the western-centric narrative around AIDS through the exploration and dissemination of global AIDS related media—particularly video.

Juhasz: Yes, that’s what makes them “activist,” the idea that they will catalyze something more: action, self-care, community education, conversation, more media. As I’ve said in another context: “The prevailing meaning of AIDS, or any other cultural phenomenon, are not fixed; they transform, often in relation to challenges in the realm of cultural production.”

End Notes:

  1. Douglas Crimp, AIDS Cultural Analysis/Cultural Activism (Cambridge, MA: The MIT University Press, 1988). 
  2. See AIDS TV: Identity, Community and Alternative Video (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995).
  3. Alexandra Juhasz, AIDS TV.
  4. http://www.myfabulousdisease.com
  5. http://www.riseuptohiv.org/
  6. postervirus.tumblr.com
  7. Alexandra Juhasz, “From the Scenes of Drag Queens.”
  8. Please see my earlier writing about these, and other recent AIDS documentaries.
  9. https://vimeo.com/35489736
  10. http://www.chrisevargas.com/video
  11.  See Serene Jones, Trauma and Grace: Theology in a Ruptured World (Westminster John Knox Press, 2009)
  12. See discussion about "Your Nostalgia is Killing" me online.
  13. See Douglas Crimp, Melancholia and Moralism (MIT Press, 2004).
  14. Alexandra Juhasz, “Video Remains and Queer Archival Activism,”
  15. see responses to AIDS docs here and Alex’s article about them.
  16. http://www.visualaids.org/blog/detail/as-we-canonize-certain-producers-of-culture-we-are-closing-space-for-a-comp
  17. Lucas Hilderbrand, “Retroactivism,” GLQ 12:2, pp. 303-317, 2006, Duke University Press.
  18. http://www.visualaids.org/projects/detail/day-without-art-2011
  19.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cE6wxDqdOV0&feature=kp
  20. https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=XWo67RoDEB4
  21. http://www.fourthemovie.com
  22. Michel Foucault, cite.
  23. vimeo.com/20256191
  24. See Lawrence Lessing, Remix: Making Art and Commerce in he Hybrid Economy (Penguin, 2008)


Boys Don’t Cry (Kimberly Peirce, 1999), Fox Searchlight Pictures

Keep Your Laws Off My Body (Catherine Saalfield, Zoe Leonard, 1990),
Audin Pictures, http://www.aubinpictures.com/films.htm

Like a Prayer, Deep Dish TV

Mississippi Burning (Alan Parker, 1988), Fox


Monster (Patty Jenkins, 2003), The Film Catalogue


Philadelphia (Jonathan Demme, 1993), Sony Pictures

Poison (Todd Haynes, 1991), Zeitgeist Films


Rock Hudson’s Home Movies, Water Bearer Films http://store.waterbearerfilms.com/rockhudsonshomemovies.aspx

Sex Positive (Daryl Wein, 2008), Roco Films

Silverlake Life (Peter Friedman, Tom Joslin, 1993), docurama films

Voices from the Front (Sandra Elgear, Robyn Hutt, David Meieran, 1992), Frameline


We Care: A Video for Care Providers of People Affected by AIDS, (WAVE, 1995), Alexandra Juhasz,


Alexandra Juhasz has been making and thinking about AIDS activist video since the mid-Eighties. She is the author of AIDS TV: Identity, Community and Alternative Video (Duke, 1995) and many more recent essays about the changing shape of the representation of AIDS including  “From the Scenes of Queens: Genre, AIDS and Queer Love,” in The Cinema of Todd Haynes; “So Many Alternatives: The Alternative AIDS Video Movement,” From ACT UP to the WTO, “Forgetting ACT UP,” ACT UP 25 Forum, Quarterly Journal of Speech; “AIDS Video: To Dream and Dance with the Censor, Jump Cut. She was a guest editor for APLA's Corpus V: Women, Gay Men and AIDS (March 2006) and is interviewed in the ACT UP Oral History project online. As a videomaker, she has made a large number of AIDS educational videos including GMHC's  Living with AIDS: Women and AIDS (1987), Safer and Sexier: A College Student's Guide to Safer Sex (1991) and, most recently, Video Remains (2005). She is a professor of media studies at Pitzer College. 

Canadian born Theodore Kerr is a writer, artist, and organizer living in Brooklyn, New York. He is the programs manager at Visual AIDS, and a board member with QUEEROCRACY. He has written for NY Press, Lambda Literary, In the Flesh, and other publications. For AIDS ACTION NOW's posterVIRUS campaign, he created "Inflamed:  litany for a burning condom" with Chaplin Christopher Jones. With artist Aldrin Valdez, Kerr co-organizes Foundation Sharing, a queer series of readings, performances, zines, and visual art. He is a graduate of the New School for Public Engagement, Riggio: Writing and Democracy Program. 

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