The posthumous memoir Holding the Man (1995) by Timothy Conigrave is the inspiration for this documentary. Published shortly after Conigrave’s death from an AIDS related illness, Holding the Man has struck a chord with readers around the world. It has sold millions of copies, been adapted into a critically acclaimed play and a feature film.
We had been hearing of the Holding the Man for more than a decade. Friends, acquaintances and total strangers would rave, at length, about how wonderful it was and how reading this book had changed their life. Each time this happened we would nod, mentally add it to our lists of books to read one day and then forget about it.
It was not until December 2010 that Nick finally got around to reading Holding the Man and finally understood why everyone raved about it. It is a beautiful, raw and brutally honest book. The first half is raunchy and fun; the second half is devastating.
We quickly joined the ranks of the converted and were soon waxing lyrical about Holding the Man to complete strangers ourselves.
As human beings, Holding the Man uplifted us. But as documentary filmmakers, we were inspired and recognised the potential for a documentary about these two men and the devastating AIDS pandemic that arrived in Australia in the early 1980s.
Nick is a gay man who is just young enough to have missed the worst of the AIDS pandemic. We are very aware that had he been born a few years earlier, Tim and John’s story could easily have been Nick’s story.
We have wanted to tackle the theme of HIV/AIDS in a documentary for a long time but had never found the right story – until now. John’s and Tim’s story is an intimate love story set in a time of war; it is a microcosm of the AIDS pandemic; a face to put on all the faceless victims of HIV; and an operatic story of tragedy and triumph.
We strongly felt that a documentary was needed despite the story having already been told in both Conigrave’s memoir and the stage adaptation.
In a strange way, John’s and Tim’s story has outgrown Tim’s posthumous memoir. Holding the Man tells the story only from Tim Conigrave’s point of view and, of course, lacks the crucial third act that explores what happened next. Act Three of the documentary will examine how their relationship transcended death and tragedy to become something triumphant and uplifting. Why has the story of two Australian schoolboys resonated with audiences around the world? What makes their story stand head and shoulders above the plethora of AIDS related books and memoirs?
Importantly, Remembering the Man is a quintessentially Melbourne story that is well on its way to becoming part of Australian folklore. The story begins at Xavier College in 1974 and explores what it was like to be a gay teenager in love with another boy at Melbourne’s most prestigious Catholic school. The story comes full circle in the early ‘90s when the terminally ill protagonists return home to Melbourne and are admitted to Fairfield Hospital whose important role in the AIDS years has never been properly explored.
The documentary Remembering the Man is also timely. More than 20 years has passed since Tim and John died and much has changed. HIV is now a treatable chronic disease rather than a death sentence; gay marriage seems likely to become legalised shortly in Australia; Tim’s and John’s friends are now middle-aged and have the distance needed to reflect on the meaning of their friends’ lives; and enough time has passed that the events in Holding the Man have become part of recent history rather than current events. In making this documentary, we will be able use this fresh perspective to examine the bigger picture of AIDS in a way that Conigrave’s memoir could not.
Remembering the Man is one part love story, one part social history documentary. John’s and Tim’s very personal story will unfold like a Greek tragedy against the huge canvas of the global AIDS pandemic.