In 1995, Tim Conigrave’s memoir, Holding the Man was published and became an instant classic. The book told the story of his passionate relationship with his first and only love, John Caleo, a relationship that began in high school and ended 16 years later when AIDS struck down both of them.
Holding the Man struck a chord with readers around the world and became an instant classic. Since then, millions of copies have been sold and the book has been adapted into a critically acclaimed stage play and feature film. But who were the men at the heart of the book? Why has the story of these star-crossed Romeos become such a seminal account of the global tragedy of the AIDS pandemic?
A story of love, loss and the AIDS pandemic from a uniquely Australian perspective, Remembering the Man follows the course of the couple’s tumultuous relationship: their awkward school romance; their parents efforts to keep them apart; temptation, infidelity and separation; how they came back together stronger than before; their diagnosis with HIV and their battle to stay alive; John’s death; and Tim’s race against time to finish writing Holding the Man before he died.
Remembering the Man is directed and produced by Nickolas Bird and Eleanor Sharpe, Melbourne-based filmmakers who have produced a variety of documentary films including Ballroom Rules (2012) and Curtain Call (2014), and is narrated in part by Conigrave himself, using extracts of his 1993 interview with James Waites for the Australian response to AIDS oral history project – a project undertaken jointly by the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations and the National Library of Australia.
Through frank and revealing interviews with family, friends, and teachers and by using rare archival footage and photos, Remembering the Man uncovers the real couple behind Holding the Man and asks why their story has endured when they did not.
Director Nickolas Bird said he first heard about Holding the Man from his partner who adored the book and raved about it constantly. “I was instantly fascinated by the idea of a star cross’d romance between two Catholic schoolboys. A teenage crush that became a kind of operatic romance that is ultimately destroyed by the Fates,” said Bird.
“When I finally read Holding the Man, I understood why my partner was so effusive. It is a beautiful, raw and brutally honest book. The first half is raunchy and fun; the second half is devastating. But at its core it is an incredible love story. As a filmmaker, I was inspired and recognized the potential for a documentary to uncover deeper stories about these men.”
Every generation has its war. Tim and John’s generation had the global AIDS pandemic and the casualties were millions of young men who were struck down in their prime. Tim Conigrave and John Caleo were not the only ones to fall but they have become the human face of all the young men who died in this war.
Winner of the Audience Choice Award at the 2015 Adelaide Film Festival, and Best Documentary (Biography) at the 2015 ATOM Awards, Remembering the Man will screen at the Mardi Gras Film Festival and Melbourne Queer Film Festival, before screening at Melbourne’s Cinema Nova. For more information, visit: www.rememberingtheman.com.au for details.
Image: Tim Conigrave and John Caleo (supplied)