you introduce yourself please?
JG: Sure. I'm a video and
film artist. I'm 33, Since the early 80's I've been doing video,
performance and artist ???, but was never happy with them so moved
exclusively into video. Mostly for distribution reasons started
to make a move into film. So here we are and I've made a film.
C.M-S: How did you discover
you were gay?
JG: I have memories
which go back to the age of five. They go from wanting to be a girl,
or thinking I was a girl, - gender confusion to a very clear desire
for boys- wanting to kiss boys, and knowing that it wasn't considered
good. I never had any doubts. A lot of repression and Angst, and
being upset about it, but never any doubts. I did have relationships
with girls when I was a teenager, but I knew what I wanted. I was
able to start coming out when I was seventeen. I was fully actively
gay when I was 18 - and working for "Body Politic".
C.M-S. It's good that someone
who is a personality says that he knew about the age of five that
he was interested in men/males. In Germany they have raised the
age of consent from 14 to 16.
But to your film, - in some of the reviews of "Zero Patience"
you're described as a gay activist. What do you think about this?
JG: I'm honoured!. I don't
know how accurate that is because I'vc been involved in the movement
since the late '70s in Toronto. I wrote some stuff for Body Politic
- which is a famous gay/lesbian liberation magazine in Toronto,
worked with the International Gay Association before it was the
international gay and lesbian association. I still work with AIDS-Action-Now
in Toronto. Although gay activism and being involved in gay politics
has been a big part of my life, in the last five years I've concentrated
- by necessity - on doing my art and considering that the prmary
focus of the work - and primary focus of the activism too. I want
to return to being more invloved in the community. It's just a juggling
act with time. My experience was that getting involved in gay politics
and the movement fuelled the work in important ways. The work I've
done in video and film wouldn't exist without that grounding in
C.M-S: How did
you get the idea of doing "Zero Patience"?
JG: It started with the publication
of Randy Shilts "And the band played on" which was a best
selling book - a history of the epidemic in North America. It is
by far the most thorough indictment of government indifference for
the first five years of the epidemic. There were two things I thought
were pretty lousy about the book: the construction of a dichotomy
between "good gays" who were monogamous, couples, stayed
at home with their 1.2 cats, - and the "bad", promiscuous,
often French Canadian gays, who ran around visiting the bath-houses.
It seemed important to comment on that silly construction - because
I don't think our sexualities work that way. The lives we lead as
people don't divide so easily - certainly our political lives. What
he did in the name of objective history was quite subjective, and
He was also the person who invented the myth of patient zero. He
accused this Air Canada flight attendant of bringing AIDS to North
America, - and his assertions flew in the face of evidence contained
- even within his own book. When you do a careful reading of his
book there are two reason why the patient zero could never have
been the first. There are cases of AIDS which date back to the '60's
and even 50's. When they went back and tested blood samples of people
who died mysterious immuno-suppressed deaths - they posthumously
concluded they must have been AIDS deaths. That's evidence to suggest
that AIDS has been around longer than the "patient zero".
Just as importantly, if not more so, the study which Shilts claims
proves Patient Zero was the first does nothing of the sort. It proves
the opposite because in retrospect by 1987 when Shilts book was
published, we knew there was a much longer space between infection
and manifesting chronic symptoms. In 1982 when the study was done
manifesting chronic symptonms was the only way we knew people were
sick - the pneumocystic lesions, and Karposis Sarchoma lesions.
It is impossible to think Shilts didn't know that Zero wasn't
the first. Why launch such a myth? I'm quite cynical. I think it
was to do something sensational which would make the book a best
seller - which worked. The publisher has to take a lot of the blame.
I'm sure they pushed it in the press releases. That was the story
which got picked up in the mass media.
What I was interested in critique-ing in "Zero Patience"
was the larger thing. Why did the mainstream media, - all of whom
should have known better - pick on this. Anyone who has done their
basic homework on AIDS should be able to take apart the story in
five minutes. What became to me the more interesting thing to explore
was - why we as a society seem to have this need for scape-goats.
Why do we need to point the finger and say, "You're responsible!
You're the source! You faggot! You junkie! You African! You prostitute!"
A couple of other things happened that year which were probably
as important. One was the formation of Act-Up - the AIDS activist
movement. What they brought to social activism in general and AIDS
politics in particular is a sense of wit and style, and outrage.
I'm active still in AIDS-action - which is the local group. I've
been closely affiliated since it started - also through doing video-work
for the movement. I feel very close ot it. The movement has gone
through many changes. We're in a completely different situation
now than we were in 1987. Many of the activists have died - or moved
on to different work, institutions and organisations. But the spirit
of the movement has changed the world. I have no doubt about that.
C.M-S: But you
criticise Act-Up in the film.
JG: For very
important reasons. Because I'm speaking from within the movement,
I wanted to reflect the some of the struggles that the movement
was going through - and still goes through. These are struggles
that any political movement goes through. The disjunction between
private personal crises, doubts, especially doubts, versus the public
face. I wanted to catch on the screen some of these painful human
dilemas that we've all gone through. The response from fellow activists
has been absolutely positive. It's a measure of a movement when
you can do self-criticism.
One of the criticique of the film says "you deliberately
undermined Hollywood structures"...
JG: That's interesting.
Story telling is to me really interesting, and following the techniques
of dramatic story-telling - obviously not in a realist mode, but
in a phantastical mode. Instead of realism being the only option
- which Hollywood always claims - . I think realism is only one
option. The sort of techniques which I'm using, are coming out of
the debates around post modernism. We wanted to make a film which
was both experimental and conventional. Something that wouldn't
scare people away. Often the avante guarde is so condescending to
audiences. If you don't understand it, it's because you're stupid.
As a member of the audience, I often don't understand avant guarde
stuff and I think it's because they haven't thought clearly enough
about communication - about meeting me half-way, about filling in
the reference points. I did make a careful effort to fill in reference
points to give people enough to understand who Burton was even if
they've never heard of Burton before. A lot of people haven't heard
of Patient Zero before, so we tried on a practical level and an
aesthetical level, and a political level, to fill in enough so it
is all there for the uninitiated. So that someone who comes in,
and this isn't their world, feels there's something in it for them,
too, because communication is important and brdige building is important.
I'm not interested in shock techniques or exclusion techniques,
- and I'm also not interested in a sensational spectacle where gays
once again are simply something for a voyeuristic public to consume.
C.M-S: So you wanted the
audience to include many heteros?
JG: Yeh. - because the experience of the
epidemic is that there have been so many people touched by the disease
because they've been infected themselves or more commonly, in my
experience in Toronto - losing loved-ones to AIDS. I talk about
the film coming out of the AIDS-community and that definitely includes
people like the 60-year-old straight Swedish woman when I was caring
for my friend Michael who I would share shifts with. She was Michael's
neigbour. That to me is who the film is about as well. That's very
C.M-S: How would
you answer people who say the film is perverse and risqué.
JG: Absolutely right - and
that's fun, - but to be more serious. Those are big words in terms
of their possible interpretations. For me risqué tends to have negative
connotations - for example titilating. I don't think the film is
titilating. It tries to find new ways to talk about sexuality -
about the connections between disease and sexuality in ways that
will make people listen and not simply turn off, or roll their eyes,
or think, "We know all this." For instance we attempt
to talk about anal sex in a way that is very frank and very direct
but also had lots of humour in it. We have spent ten years NOT talking
about anal sex, and it amazes me that the greatest likelihood of
transmission occurs with this particular sexual act, yet we keep
using euphemisms. We talk about gay sex in general when we mean
a very specific thing called anal sex.
Perverse - I don't have such a bad response to because I think
there is a real perversity in taking such a fluffy empty, discredited
genre like the musical and filling it with AIDS activist content.
That to me is perverse in a fun way- and a productive way. Perversity
is often a strategy for shaking people out of their set ideas or
set positions so that to me is really worthwhile.
C.M-S: One interesting
criticism referred to "de-constructive wit". As a "specialist"
so to speak, could you explain for our non-specialist readers what
JG: I would interpret
deconstructive wit as a strategy of humour which also does the work
of taking apart existing things. Taking apart how hysterical headlines
about Patient Zero are put together. It's actually quite a literal
C.M-S: ... taking things
apart to look at them carefully ...
JG: Exactly. I think that's
a great term.
C.M-S: They made in Germany
a film called "AIDS Rebel" - on the Duesberg line. How
would you answer criticism that in the film you say "It's not
proved" that HIV alone causes AIDS.
JG: One of the most appalling
things about the epidemic is that discussion is continually being
closed down, although this is a vital aspect. "Where does it
come from?" The idea that we can answer "Africa"
and then close the door (although) it was never proven is appalling.
That's why we have the green monkey scene. The idea that we can
say "This man - Patient Zero - brought it to North America
then close the door and say we're done with that, is appalling.
And the other idea that we can accept HIV as the sole cause - given
the critiques from a whole range of people from Micheal Callen,
and Stewart Marshall - and Duesberg too, - is also appalling. Those
critiques definitely deserve to be listened too.
The film is very, very careful in what it says. It makes a critique
of the HIV-hypothesis as the sole cause, and says one thing
very simply. We don't know what the cause of AIDS is. We have never
proven that HIV is the sole cause. We have no idea what it could
be. That's very, very different from what Duesberg does. I think
Duesberg critique of the HIV-hypothesis is useful. I think his alternative-hypothesis
has almost no merit. He should apply the very detailed scrutiny
he applies to the HIV-hypothesis to his own hypothesis because it's
full of holes. It ignores the reality of what we've been through.
I don't know what his motivation is when he gets on national TV
and says, "I think HIV is harmless and I would inject myself
with it this minute. I don't know what ANYONE'S motivations could
be for such a statement. It does violence to people living with
HIV and AIDS. People are living with HIV. The epidemiological connections
between HIV and AIDS are SO profound that it seems impossible to
me personally - and I think to most of us - that they can NOT be
connected in some way. My position would be we need to ask a lot
more questions about how they're connected.
are your plans for the next film?
JG: Two projects.
One is a feature - an adaption of a play by Michel Marc Beuchar
three gay teenagers in northern Quebec in 1912. It's very complex
and convoluted, romantic and sexy. The other is a project about
circumcision and Pier Trudeau - our former Canadian Premier.
Colin de la Motte-Sherman