Four-and-a-half years in the making, Remembering the Man is a bruising documentary take on Tim Conigrave’s beloved 1995 memoir Holding the Man. Conigrave’s story, which has been both a fictionalised film and a play before, comes alive in the hands of documentary filmmakers Nickolas Bird and Eleanor Sharp and their devoted team.
The relationship between Conigrave and his high school boyfriend John Caleo on which the documentary centres blossomed at a time when homosexuality was becoming more and more visible in Australia. Ultimately, the AIDS crisis that tore the gay community apart echoes through the film with a dreadful and sorrowful sense of finality.
The team behind Remembering the Man have done exhaustive research, keeping re-enactments to a minimum in favour of the touching immediacy of photographs, archival footage, home movies, voice recordings and intimate talking heads with friends of Tim and John. When re-enactments do appear, they are tasteful and striking synecdoches – a ragged cough, a looming face, actors performing lines from Tim's own writing.
Remembering the Man is constructed with the utmost respect for the reality of Tim and John’s relationship and the changing social atmosphere around them. The relationship between the creative, impetuous Tim and the quiet, gentle John is not needlessly romanticised, but it is smartly and subtly contrasted with common gay stereotypes of promiscuity and amorality.
Through the lens of Tim and John’s relationship, Remembering the Man finds a broader focus on the extreme stigma and fear that characterised the most destructive period of the AIDS epidemic. The film very eloquently creates a disarming balance between the political and the personal – through the inevitable tears, there is a vital story that it is profoundly important to preserve.
The documentary is showing in cinemas now through Tugg. The innovative cinema-on-demand platform is key in allowing independent productions like this one to find an audience and a voice. Visit the Tugg website for more information.