The American filmmaker Jim Hubbard has been making experimental films that explore lesbian and gay activism and community building since the mid-1970s. Today, Hubbard is perhaps best known for his work as an AIDS activist and historian of AIDS activism. In 2012, he directed and co-produced the documentary United in Anger: A History of ACT UP, a powerful account of the emergence of AIDS activism in New York in the mid-to-late 1980s from the perspective of members of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, with the activist and writer Sarah Schulman. Hubbard and Schulman also coordinate the ACT UP Oral History Project, a collection of interviews with surviving members of the group.
On 9th December 2016 – shortly after World AIDS Day 2017 – CRUSEV’s Fiona Anderson and members of the fellow HERA-funded project EUROPACH (Disentangling European HIV/AIDS Policies: Activism, Citizenship and Health) hosted a screening and discussion with Hubbard about his life and work at the Cinema Museum in London. For the screening, Hubbard selected four films which span the breadth of his practice, from poetic reflections on personal loss to documentary interviews, and dealt with themes of loss, memory, activism and empowerment.
In the late 1970s, Hubbard recorded protests against the filming of William Friedkin’s controversial movie Cruising in New York’s West Village on Super 8 film, using the material in a short work that he titled Stop the Movie Cruising (1980). Hubbard’s film switches between footage of street protests in the West Village, aiming to disrupt the filming of Cruising, and voyeuristic recordings of extras on the set, chatting, laughing, and dancing inside the leather bars by the waterfront like the Ramrod and the Eagle’s Nest in which Friedkin filmed. Filming the action from outside the bar, peering in, Hubbard utilised the vantage point of cruising in this work. Moving between the club and the street, between inside and outside, setting up clear parallels between the multiple queer bodies congregating, fictionally, in the bars and the crowds of queer activists rallying against the film in the streets of the Village.
Two Marches (1991), shot on 16mm film, juxtaposes scenes recorded at two national marches on Washington D.C.: the first and second National Marches on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1979 and 1987. Hubbard’s combination of footage, presented mostly in silence, makes clear the devastating and unanticipated changes that impacted queer communities in the US between the late 1970s and the late 1980s. Hubbard’s earlier film Elegy in the Streets (1989), also shot in 16mm, takes a similar approach, bringing together intimate footage of Hubbard’s former partner, the filmmaker Roger Jacoby, who died in 1985, and documentations of public demonstrations by ACT UP and the public unfurling of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt in 1987.
The event concluded with an excerpt from the documentary film Speak for Yourself (1990), in which the AIDS activists and ACT UP members Sarah Schulman and Maxine Wolfe shared their thoughts on the challenges facing activists as they seek to establish solidarity between the diverse communities affected by AIDS. This rarely screened footage provided a fascinating counterpoint to Hubbard and Schulman’s work with the ACT UP Oral History Project and the interviews which appear in Hubbard and Schulman’s film United in Anger: A History of ACT UP.
In a generous discussion with the audience after the screening, Hubbard shared his thoughts on new challenges facing LGBTQ activists in the present and the relationship between recent activism for marriage equality and the historic examples of AIDS activism documented in his film work. He also spoke about the distinctions between his recent work as a documentary filmmaker and his longstanding investment in experimental filmmaking and his desire to make non-narrative films which explore the emotional and visual experience of personal connection, loss, social exclusion, and activist world making in the time of AIDS and earlier. This collaborative event provided the CRUSEV and EUROPACH teams with an opportunity to cruise the queer visual cultures of the 1970s through Hubbard’s films, and trace the experience of activism, citizenship, and health from the 1970s to the present.
Text and Photographs by Fiona Anderson.