On Tour: Newport News, VA

11 Apr

April 8th, 2014  | United in Anger: A History of ACT UP | Newport News, VA

No running for planes this time, but halfway through the flight from Erie to Philadelphia the plane started shaking violently and making a lot of noise. The pilot calmly announced that we were encountering a lot of ice at 17,000 feet and that once we descended to 14,000 the plane would stop shaking. And it did.

Gloriously, it’s Spring in Newport News. Cherry trees in bloom line the streets. I saw a magnolia, yellow impatiens, phlox in bloom and the first warbler of Spring – only a yellow-rumped, but delightful nevertheless. On the Noland Trail, I saw a pair of Bald Eagles.

Professor John Nichols Film History Class

Tuesday morning I spoke in Professor John Nichols’s Film History class. I talked about the making of the film and asked the students how they learned about AIDS. They seemed most interested in my history as a filmmaker. I spoke about the way that the infrastructures that support film demand a certain kind of filmmaking. For instance, there is one distribution apparatus for mass-market feature films; theatrical, festival and college campus distribution systems for documentaries; another for experimental film and the more a particular film adheres to the dominant structure the more support it gets.

The dominant paradigm in U.S. documentary filmmaking is that the story should be told by 5 or 6 characters that the “audience can relate to.” The further the film strays from that structure, the slimmer its chances of getting funding, showing on TV or screening in major film festivals. The story of ACT UP is the story of a group with fluid leadership and it would have been impossible to tell the story that way. Many people were important in ACT UP and the major tenet of AIDS Activist Video is that people with AIDS and the people in the trenches fighting the crisis with them are the true experts and they should speak for themselves. So it would not have been an accurate reflection of ACT UP if only 5 or 6 people spoke for the group.

We had an excellent audience for the screening, a good mixture of students, faculty and members of the community. Chadra Pittman Walke, an AIDS and community organizer, and Ben Godwin, a representative of the campus LGBT group, joined me for the discussion after the film. They added insight and a local perspective to the discussion. We talked about the current AIDS situation in Virginia, the state of AIDS education and the effect of marriage equality on the AIDS epidemic.

Chadra Pittman Walke and Ben Godwin

Christopher Newport University screening

Another shot of Christopher Newport University screening

Although Christopher Newport University is 50 years old, most of the campus buildings were built within the last 20 years in a faux Georgian style. The most interesting building on campus is the Ferguson Center for the Arts, where the screening of United in Anger was held. It has a striking curved arcade of rounded arches formed by oval shaped pillars. I’m sure there is a better architectural way of describing this, but see the accompanying videos.

Ferguson Center for the Arts

Ferguson Center for the Arts

Ferguson Center for the Arts

Post by OSIP touring filmmaker, Jim Hubbard.
To listen to a podcast interview with the filmmaker, click here.


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