THEY are the couple who have been called the face of the HIV and AIDS epidemic in Australia and the feature film Holding the Man was made based on the classic memoir telling the story of their love, but a new documentary about Tim Conigrave and John Caleo delves into their lives and remembers them through the eyes of their closest friends.
Remembering the Man documents the relationship of Conigrave and Caleo who met at a Catholic high school in Melbourne in the 1970s and over 16 years they endured being kept apart by conservative parents, infidelity, diverging life plans, and being reunited again — only to be diagnosed with HIV and dying from AIDS-related illnesses within years of each other.
[showads ad=MREC] Conigrave rushed to finish his memoir Holding the Man before he died and this documentary looks at why the couple became such seminal and enduring characters of HIV and AIDS in Australia.
Remembering the Man was a labour of love for film makers Nickolas Bird and Eleanor Sharpe, who had to “beg, borrow and steal and even put money on our own credit cards” to have the documentary made.
“This is our fourth feature (film) and it was the hardest… it has got very little government money,” Bird said.
“We felt for whatever reason the gods weren’t on our side.”
Despite the challenges the duo persevered because they believed it was a story that needed to be told. Bird recalls the huge toll making the film took on him not just financially, but also emotionally.
“There was a time I was grieving John and Tim, it was really bizarre,” he said.
“Certain things would remind me of them. I had visions of them at school and their future and the Caleos looking after their son.”
The documentary weaves interviews with the couple’s closest friends, audio from one of Conigrave’s last ever interviews, actors reciting lines from Conigrave’s HIV-themed play Soft Targets and archival footage of anti-gay protests led by Fred Nile.
The archival footage cost the production a small fortune, but Bird said it was essential to the story.
“I wanted people to remember Fred Nile and his hatred… he has caused people to kill themselves,” he said.
“Going through the archive footage and thinking ‘that’s awful and really sad’, those poor guys are dying and they’re facing that shit.
“We can’t sit back and not tell these stories.”
Bird urges people to come and see Remembering the Man not just because it is not based on the memoir, but because the documentary “is everyone’s story, not just Tim and John’s”.
“It’s a real love story… and love always resonates,” he said.
Remembering the Man screening dates: