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White Light 4 - 9:30 PM
Canada Uncut:
Queer Film and Video in the 1990s

Curated by Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan

Whatever we had been in previous decades, in the 1990s we were more so: bigger, bolder, more vocal, visible and fabulous. We had been brought together and out by AIDS, and now that we were here, queer and largely still alive we had no intention of losing our anger or passion or community. We demanded to see reflections of ourselves and our experience. And if images of our sexuality did not exist yet, we would make them. Together, we forged a vocabulary of what it looked like to be openly, unapologetically gay, even as the definition of the word was expanding to embrace bi and trans into a more inclusive "queer".

Those of us who lived and loved the roles of sissy boy and bull-dyke testified to our perverse ways using our own vernacular: the moving image. Sometimes it felt as though each and every one of us was armed with a camera. Canadian arts councils had not yet been crippled. Coming out stories were still fresh. And the toys? Fantastic! Cheap consumer video cameras and digital editing systems vied for our attention along with rediscovered film formats and techniques like low-tech animation and hand processing. Our relationship to media was different to that of previous generations. We had grown up watching zillions of hours of TV. It was part of us. We felt we owned it. So we fearlessly appropriated and twisted the mainstream to serve our desires. There was so much to say and so many ways to say it. And for the first time, there were umpteen venues. Gay and lesbian film and video festivals popped up the world over: in Hong Kong, London, Regina! Audiences were hungry for queer work. It mattered.

The films and videos of this program reflect the energy of this explosive time, when we were creating ourselves through visual language. Naturally, these tapes contain no shortage of sex. Sex is what sets us apart. It is how the straight world continues to define us and we are happy to play upon their worst fears. Yes, we were all porn loving nymphomaniacs intent on the seduction of innocents! But amidst the debauchery we have also found time to create culture. This collection of films and videos reflects unique gay aesthetics, gay customs and particularly gay experiences of coming out and of otherness. And, seen together with other programs in this series, these tapes form a history of our culture, a history of people with a distinct identity beyond sexual behaviour.

Curiously, a lot of gay media work created in the 1990s references earlier eras. There is a nostalgic feel to these pieces, created through the use of black and white Super 8 and 16mm film, black and white video, and found footage from the 50s, 60s and 70s. Perhaps as gay artists we have needed to rewrite history, to create a space for ourselves in the eras of our childhoods and within the history of our nation. Perhaps the creation of a queer past is necessary before we can envision a queer future.

Much of the work in this program takes the form of first-person narratives: testimonial. That said, these films and videos are never self-indulgent. In the 1990s, gay artists have not yet had the luxury of separating the personal from the political. Issues such as AIDS, censorship, race politics, trans politics, representation and identity, loom large in that decade, as artists grappled with their place in community and society.

Most importantly, the work presented here is more than historically significant. It remains great film and video, and is not only an essential part of our gay history but the history of Canadian art as well. Artists Ivan E. Coyote, Thirza Cuthand, Kevin d'Souza, Tom Fitzgerald, Noam Gonick, Mike Hoolboom, Dana Inkster, Dierdre Logue, Allyson Mitchell, Arif Noorani and Steve Reinke, continue to make work. Some have moved on to feature film direction. Others prefer to remain in the experimental film/video realm. And still others are interdisciplinarians, moving between media such as video, installation, sculpture, spoken word and performance.

These artists are not simply of an era. However their significance to the 1990s is unmistakable, as is their role in creating what we now recognize as queerness. They pushed boundaries of the film and video media while providing the visual imagery for a proud and public gay identity. They framed what it looks like to be gay in Canada, and paved the way for greater acceptance, openness and multiple definitions of what it is to be queer, here, in the true north strong and - almost - free.

Noam Gonick, 1997, 16mm, 8:00 min.

In this revisionist history, the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 is brought to its knees by queer activists at Sammy Wong's Steam Bath.

Arif Noorani and Kevin d'Souza, 1998, film finished on video, 5:50 min.

A series of fantasies encompassing Bollywood musicals, math teachers and a street vendor offering a delicious snack.

Dierdre Logue, 1997, film transferred to video, 3:00 min.

A repeated gesture, beautifully rendered in hand-processed film, is an ideal surface onto which the viewer can project all manner of experiences: falling in love, falling out of favour, falling out of love, falling down, falling apart.

Thirza Cuthand. 1998, video, 4:15 min.

A young woman defiantly expresses the complexity of her sexuality, particularly with respect to older women.

Candy Kisses
Allyson Mitchell, 1999, 16mm, 3:00 min.

This stop-animation confection looks at the painful ramifications of non-monogamy.

Welcome to Africville
Dana Inkster, 1999, film transferred to video, 15:00 min.

To mark the 30th anniversary of the destruction of one of the oldest black communities in Canada, Dana Inkster creates a narrative that melds history, politics and gay sexuality.

Ivan Coyote, 1998, video, 7:00 min.

This personal meditation on trans culture and queer family explores the scars and joys that come with negotiating societal gender role definition.

Understanding Heterosexuality
Steve Reinke. 1994, video, 1:30 min.

The peculiar phenomenon of boy-girl love is explored, in a twist on interpretations of normalcy.

Canada Uncut
Thom Fitzgerald, 1996, film, 4:00 min.

This fictional narrative focuses on a young couple's response to censorship by the ever-oppressive, ever-imbecilic Canada Customs.

Frank's Cock
Mike Hoolboom. 1993, 16mm, 6:00 min.

The narrator's obsession with another man's anatomy encapsulates several preoccupations of the era: lust and pornography, AIDS and science.

Total running time: 57:35 min.