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AIDS Activist Film and Video and the Emergence of Queer Cinema

The crisis generated by what came to be called Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS, was not simply medical but also political and, in turn, representational. The film- and videomakers included in this survey were among the first to think about the relationship between AIDS activism and the politics of the image. Focusing primarily on the key years between 1985 and 1991, this program comprises works that both document the political struggles around AIDS and employ formal experimentation as an intervention into the AIDS epidemic as a crisis of signification. Directed by filmmakers from the world of experimental film (Barbara Hammer, Jim Hubbard), political activism (the Gran Fury and Testing the Limits collectives), and artists who laid the groundwork of the emergent queer cinema (Isaac Julien, Tom Kalin, John Greyson),  the various aesthetic practices are united by the artists’ keen understanding of the urgent need to disseminate crucial information and offer an alternative to the vacillation between indifference and hysteria the characterized the reaction of the mass media.

This program is presented in conjunction with the exhibit “ACT UP New York: Activism, Art, and the AIDS Crisis, 1987-1993,” in the Carpenter Center from October 15 to December 23, 2009. For more events connected to this exhibit, visit the Carpenter Center website.

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