When filmmaker Avery Willard didn’t use the penname Bruce King, he developed his films under the title of Ava-Graph Films. These pieces weren’t for commercial use, they were the kind of art he would create in his apartment specifically targeted for a small audience, then tucked away in a box until now. This coming weekend, In Search of Avery Willard will screen with a rare full program of Willard films, Unveiling Avery Willard, at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, January 26th and 27th. More…
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If you missed KEEP THE LIGHTS ON in theaters this past September, there’s one last chance to catch it on the big screen, when the film re-opens at New York’s Cinema Village, next Friday, December 21!
Ira will be present for Q&A at the 7pm Fri, Dec. 21 and Sat., Dec. 22 shows. Tickets are on sale now (additional showtimes will go on sale soon):
TICKETS (Additional showtimes on-sale soon)
Fri., Dec. 21, 7pm – Q&A With Director Ira Sachs
Sat., Dec. 22, 7pm – Q&A With Director Ira Sachs
Jonathan Caouette is a filmmaker from Texas. His first film, Tarnation, debuted in 2003. In Tarnation Caouette incorporated over twenty years of footage to tell the story of his growing up and his relationship with his mother, Renee Leblanc. The film was executive produced by Gus Van Sant and John Cameron Mitchell. He also directed the 2009 documentary All Tomorrow’s Parties, on the British music festival of the same name, and the experimental short film All Flowers In Time, starring Chloë Sevigny. His third film, Walk Away Renee, debuted at Cannes Film Festival in 2011. Walk Away Renee conveys the story of the voyage Jonathan and his mother make to move her from Texas to New York City, where Jonathan has lived for many years. The film begins its New York theatrical run tomorrow, November 30th, at IFC Center.
Kyle Tidd: Hi Jonathan! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview. This was my side of our imaginary conversation, feel free to respond however you want, it can be totally unrelated, as you please.
Jonathan Caouette: Oh thank you, I am more concerned about passing out at the moment…I’m on pain medication from a fall last week, I’m waiting right now for a lot of test results to come back…I hope it’s nothing too bad…I just turned 40 and had to cancel my celebration plans and have made two doctor’s visits and two trips to the ER just in time for the opening of Walk Away Renee.
KT: Whoa, I hope everything’s ok! I’m only going to ask you a few questions then you should rest. Is there a connection between the title of the new movie and the 1966 song by The Left Banke?
JC: Yes, The Left Banke is one of my favorite bands of all time. My mother turned me on to Walk Away Renee (the song) and Pretty Ballerina when I was a baby. Also, if it weren’t for The Left Banke there would be no Belle and Sebastian…
KT: Would you say Walk Away Renee is to Tarnation kind of like what Amnesiac was to Kid A, i.e. material salvaged from the first work that elaborates further on the relationship set up between you and your mother in Tarnation?
JC: I love that analogy, yes it is! Well, actually in a nutshell—and I’m half joking about this—but for me, in a sense the film essentially feels like it could be an opulent DVD extra, an easter egg, on disc two, for a 20 year DVD (or whatever the format will be in 2024) anniversary of Tarnation…that I somehow traveled forward in time and stole it from myself just before I put it on that disc two DVD and then came back and just, well, presented it now in 2012.
KT: You’ve mentioned H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine before, and I’ve also heard you’re working on a film about time travel.
JC: I kid you not, and I’m not trying to sound like James Franco or anything, but I have seven projects in development, all of which are going to come down the pipeline as it were in beautiful even-keeled paced succession. One of these is in fact a narrative film I’m writing and directing about time travel.
KT: Can you talk a little more about your interest in time travel?
JC: Yes. Long story short, I wish I had a time machine so that I could leave this time and go back to, I don’t know, 1950 and live until 1986. I love the subject and I am really interested in exploring it in a way that I don’t necessarily think has been done before; the idea of completely personalizing that story really excites me.
KT: And the relationship between time travel and cinema?
JC: Well, I feel a bit like John Cusack in High Fidelity. I associate specific memories and directly correlate the memories to music and films that I had seen during particular times in my life.
KT: I realize that Walk Away Renee was made in relation to certain practical considerations (the need to move your mother to New York from Texas), but it my understanding that you have always wanted to make a classic roadtrip film. Would you say a roadtrip is like time travel in some ways? Your mother moved to New York in part because she was receiving inadequate medical care in Texas. There seems to be an undercurrent in your work between cinema, time travel, and story-telling. Could you talk about that?
JC: YES, but if I answer that all the way right now honestly and detailed I would be giving away the plot of the film, which I can’t do right now.
KT: I understand. Apparently there was a segment cut from the film that had to do with a Wilhelm Reich cult group called the Cloudbusters. Are you a Kate Bush fan?
JC: Huge, huge huge fan. She is like my demi-goddess. I grew up listening to the likes of Kate Bush, Lene Lovich, Nina Hagen, Le Rita Mitsouko, etc.
KT: Why were the Cloudbusters cut from the film?
JC: That scene, coupled with a lot of other scenes coupled with a structure that I could not properly and comfortably digest, was screened at Cannes. The Cannes version of Walk Away Renee is an entire book in itself. For me it was the right film but the wrong version at the wrong time at the right festival. I was so unbelievable gobsmacked grateful beyond words to have the opportunity to show the film as the work in progress at Cannes. But that version became re-tooled about three times just after that showing. The new and final version will be present at IFC this Friday, November 30th. My family and I will be at the last showing of the night. I’ll be on crutches!
Keep the Lights On has received four Independent Spirit Awards nominations: Best Feature, Best Director (Ira Sachs), Best Actor (Thure Lindhardt), and Best Original Screenplay (Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias). The ceremony, held in Santa Monica, is the largest for US independent film. The awards will be broadcast live on IFC on Saturday, February 23, 2013.
In other news, KTLO is available to pre-order on DVD and Blu-Ray. The DVD will be released on January 22. Special features include 4 deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes documentary, cast audition videos, and a commentary with Ira.
Back in the early days of Keep the Lights On.com (when, like this weekend, we were faced with a hurricane), we shared our love of the The Slope, a web-based comic series by Desiree Akhavan and Ingrid Jungermann about a superficial homophobic lesbian couple in Park Slope: ”Like Jonathan Lisecki’s Gayby, Akhavan and Jungermann repurpose the style of deadpan comedy seen in shows like The Office, Parks & Recreation andCurbs Your Enthusiasm with their unique strand of queer humor,” Chelsea Lora wrote.
The Slope went on to find a loyal audience, with Akhavan and Jungermann being named in Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film for 2012. Now, co-creator Jungermann is shooting a spin-off, F To 7TH, a comedy follows her character’s descent into middle age as she struggles to find herself in a world where gender and sexuality have left her old fashioned lesbianism behind. The show also features queer cinema alum Ashlie Atkinson (MY BEST DAY), and Gaby Hoffmann (LOUIE).
The team is in the last week of their kickstarter campaign to raise production funds for their shoot next month. As we know, comedies about lesbian, intersex, and trans issues are a rarity, so if you can, lend them a hand. Stay dry this weekend!
Keep the Lights On makes its London premiere tonight, October 16th, at the BFI London Film Festival. To celebrate, here’s a short behind-the-scenes documentary, shot by Jean Christophe Husson. There will be more footage on the film’s DVD. Peccadillo Pictures will release the film on November 2 in UK cinemas.
Edited by Alix Diaconis, score by Daniel Quinn.
A foot-high stack of papers sat on Ms. Pomerantz’s dining room table. “I pulled these out of a drawer for you,” she said, walking me over to them. They were the typed minutes of every Buddy team meeting she had ever attended. The Buddy program paired clients of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis with individuals who volunteered to help take care of them when scant other support network existed. I recently visited Ms. Leslie Fay Pomerantz in her Upper West Side apartment to discuss her experience with the Buddy program and GMHC. Ms. Pomerantz was honored in 2010 for twenty-five years of volunteer service. In addition to holding the distinction of longest serving volunteer, she was one of the first women to join the Buddy program. A few years into volunteering Ms. Pomerantz became the president of Team #2, which served clients on the Upper West Side. The stack of notes started in 2006, when the Buddy program ended. I leafed through the loose sheets, watching subsequently older generations of computer printing turn to electric typewriter. As I got closer to the bottom of the stack it dawned on me that this was an unbroken documentation of the AIDS crisis going back almost thirty years. Notes from the meetings in the early eighties were exceedingly grim; volunteers paraphrased the rapidly declining health of the men they struggled to care for. I looked at Ms. Pomerantz, who recommended we sit down and talk in her living room.
Do you have a lot of other papers from the early meetings?
Oh I probably have. The one’s I showed you and other’s I’ve kept.
Did you type these?
No, one of the team members took all the information down.
Can you talk about early Buddy meetings?
They were very emotional.
How many people were typically in a meeting?
Maybe 12 or 14. We’d have it here, and we’d talk about our clients. And we’d all help them by telling them things it would be good for them to do. People today just don’t know what it was like. Some of the Buddies got sick.
In the beginning a lot of the hospitals were apprehensive about treating people because no one knew how AIDS was spread, was your own health something you worried about?
Yes. People thought I was crazy. I didn’t dare tell my parents.
They never knew you were a volunteer?
No. And many people had trouble going into hospitals. I remember taking Emilio’s keys so they couldn’t send them home, and then he’d die. I remember going home with his key. And I went back and visited all the time. A lot of people didn’t have anybody. A lot of people’s families disowned them. Some of them disowned them when they found out they were gay. It was something I never understood. I’m a parent, I have two sons. I couldn’t see myself…I could get mad at them, fight with them…but leave them? Never.
Were you the only woman involved in GMHC at the time you started?
At that training, I was. And people said things that I didn’t understand.
Talking to themselves, out loud, being funny. I didn’t understand. I would now, but I didn’t then. I went to training for two weeks in a row.
What exactly was the training?
I don’t remember those first trainings. But it’s changed. It was very different then than it is now.
GMHC was different?
No, what I mean is, people were very sick. If you were assigned a client and you had him for three months that was considered a very long time. There were no treatments. Sometimes you never even got the client. You were given the phone number and you called and you couldn’t find them. And then you learned that he had died.
Do you remember your first client?
Emilio. He lived near me. I had so many clients at first. I’d have to go through my papers.
Were the early clients all different ages?
Years ago, yes, they were all different ages. It took a long while, when they found out about AIDS, to understand it.
How long did you work with Emilio?
Not that long. You didn’t work with anybody that long. Because they died. I think three months. A little less.
Do you remember how you first heard about GMHC?
I think I read about it in the papers. I probably have it somewhere. There were two clients that were interviewed in the papers. And we were on 18th Street. I remember when I got there, Gay Men’s Health Crisis. I couldn’t believe it when I came in, there was a little desk with someone behind it, and he told me to go upstairs, turn to the left, and I was so surprised. I thought volunteers were women! But at the end of the two weeks everybody came up to me to thank me for being there. And I’m the only one still there!
Can you think of any stories that stand out from your early days as a volunteer?
Oh I’m sure. It was terrible before there were treatments. And people were not treated well in the hospitals.
I read you were known for something called the Leslie maneuver?
Yes! Where’d you find out about that?
I read about it on the GMHC website. My understanding is that you would not give the hospitals keys to the client’s apartment to keep them from being sent home without being cared for.
Yes, because that’s what they were doing. They were trying to send them home too quickly. So I took their keys.
Did you spend a lot of time in the hospitals with clients? Did you visit clients in their homes and in hospitals?
With Emilio, for instance, he lived nearby—they would give you people who lived nearby when they could. That was before God’s Love [God’s Love We Deliver], I used to go every day, I’d pick him up something to eat and bring it to him. Because he couldn’t do it himself. So, I did a number of things for him. They don’t have a Buddy Program anymore, but no one would need the things now that we did in the beginning. You literally took care of them. A lot of people didn’t have anybody. A lot of families disowned them. So a lot of people didn’t have anybody to help them when I started. I don’t even think many of today’s clients know things like that.
I’m very curious about, with the length of time you’ve volunteered, what kinds of changes you have seen in the organization; for instance in the way people’s attitudes have changed as treatments have improved, and as we have come to better understand AIDS. Do you feel there’s the same sense of urgency?
That’s not there anymore. And we also don’t have a Buddy program anymore. We lost funding and because you don’t need to do today what you did then. Today people have so much going for them. And people don’t get as sick. As soon as they find out they go on medications. There were no medications back then. Penicillin. It’s completely changed. And sometimes I wonder, when I sit giving tickets out at the lunch room—do they know what it was like? You can’t tell that anybody has AIDS, you don’t see it. But what you saw before, it was horrible. People could barely walk, AIDS had so many other complications. There were so many things that I can’t even remember.
Is there a way for younger people to get a sense of what it was like then?
Probably not. It’s totally different now. When I sit at the lunch desk, everyone looks healthy, everyone looks fine. But what you saw when I started…was awful. Do you have any memory?
I’m too young to remember, I’m 25.
So you don’t have any memory. Oh god what you saw was awful. People lost so much weight. There were so many problems people had, in the hands, in their legs, in their feet. It stopped them from being able to do things. It was a whole different story. And there was nothing to give them at first except penicillin. I saw things that, I remember saying to someone, that I never ever want to see again as long as I live. But I was glad that I was there to help those people. I don’t even know if some of the clients know what it was like before. I read something in the paper, I think it was the Daily News, and I found out there was a volunteer program.
This was in 1985?
Yes and if I remember correctly, GMHC was three years old when I started. But it was nothing like it is today. You spent so much of your time going to memorials. Always going to memorials. Many of the people that worked at GMHC died. Today you never hear of a death, thank heavens. And people don’t walk the way they did. In fact, sometimes when I sit at the luncheon desk I wonder, do these people know what it was like?
That’s why it’s so important to keep the stories alive, for people who have no direct connection that time, it’s a very important connection to me.
For me too. I still go to GMHC once a week, every Thursday, and I sit at the desk and hand out tickets. Someone said, what do you like about that? I said “Oh, the compliments I get.”
Did you personally know anyone affected by AIDS before you started volunteering?
Yes, a number of people. Died. And then of course they didn’t die, once they got medication. So I probably still know people with it that are taking medication. And I volunteer. I mean, after they stopped the Buddy Program Jeff Rindler, do you know who Jeff Rindler is?
He didn’t want me leaving the agency. So he suggested that I come on Thursdays and sit in front of the dining room lunch dining room and put people’s IDs in the computer and give them a ticket. And I remember saying “Jeff, that’s not what I do, I like working with people!” And he said, well try it. Now I’ve been doing it for about six years! I’m there every Thursday. And I see about three hundred people for lunch. I’m glad, because I didn’t want to leave GMHC anyway, I’ve been there so long. Most of my friends are from GMHC.
Did you notice the attitudes of the volunteers at GMHC change as AIDS treatments got better? More positivity? More hope?
It took a while. I’m the longest person there, I was told. I didn’t know that, but I was. In fact, I have pictures in my bedroom, like this, and a number of the people in the pictures died. He died. We were very good friends. We became very close. Nigel. He’s from New Zealand. He was from New Zealand. He lived here and we became friends. And then he got sick and he had to move back to New Zealand because he didn’t have insurance here.
What year was that, do you remember?
No. I could look it up. But I remember going to New Zealand, we went to both islands. He had never been to the second island. And then, he was coming here a couple years later, and I was meeting him downtown because he was going to come up and stay here. And I got a phone call, he called me and said “I don’t know how to tell you this, but I can’t come to New York.” He had a brain tumor. He said would you come, please come. So I went to visit him. And he died.
While you were there?
Yes. In fact, he asked me to sleep in his bed with him. He woke up, I think it was around six in the morning, he woke me up, he had his eyes wide open but he wasn’t seeing anything. He was lifting his legs all the way up and he would throw them out over and over and over again. I remember getting up and calling his doctor, and that was that. He eventually died that day. He had a close friend, Larry. So we were staying at Larry’s house.
How old was he when he died?
Probably his early thirties. He was charming. Everybody liked him. So he stayed with me. I have three bedrooms. When my older boy moved out I turned his room into a guest room, so Nigel stayed there when he stayed with me. I haven’t a guest in there in I don’t know how long.
How did you meet Nigel?
Through GMHC. He was a volunteer. He was a cook, so he was doing things like catering to people on his own. … Funny, of all the men in my life, and I’ve had a lot of men in my life, Nigel is the one that I think of the most. I’m going to get a cigarette. Do you smoke?
I would have a cigarette with you, thank you. And thank you for agreeing to meet today. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you.
Many thanks also to David Pais at the Gay Men’s Health Crisis for connecting me with Ms. Pomerantz.
It was brunch time on a sunny Saturday in New York’s West Village. Julian Schnabel, the celebrated artist and filmmaker, was holding court at Sant Ambroeus’ main table. The larger than life New York artist was surrounded by seven friends, most of whom cowed by Schnabel’s towering personality. Dressed in one of his signature pajamas outfits, he introduced “Paolo!,” his “favorite waiter,” to the crammed table. Rula Jebreal, the stunning Italo-Palestinian journalist (and Schnabel’s life partner), was squeezed to his left, and folding chairs were added so Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson could fit in. Power-agent Bryan Lourd stopped by, dangling a baby over eggs crostino so the artist could cradle the newborn for a second or two. Downtown fixtures gave quick greetings while the artist nodded behind his sunglasses. Schnabel “had” the room. Nothing could upstage him.
Few films could score a scene of a woman’s sexual awakening with a dog to a romantic, ridiculous Pino Donaggio-like synth score, and pull it off, but in Fourplay, director Kyle Henry creates a moment that’s as sensitive as it is funny.
In Fourplay, a feature anthology of four short stories of sexual intimacy, the protagonists (half of home live in middle-class cities cities, like Skokie and Tampa, that have rarely been associated with sex), all face life-changing sexual encounters.
Keep the Lights On has been awarded ”Best Feature Film” at the Queer Lisboa 16 (Lisbon Gay & Lesbian Film Festival)! This award was chosen by a jury comprised of Mónica Calle, João Federici and João Rui Gerra da Mata.