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Documentary Film  
 
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In Canada the National Film Board has funded such important works as David Adkin's Out: Stories of Lesbian and Gay Youth (1994) and Aerlyn Weissman and Lynne Fernie's Forbidden Love: The Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives (1992). Unlike with PBS, a sixty minute time limit is rarely a prerequisite. The NFB also has a tough skin in deflecting attacks by politicians. They have been accused of making queer films that "attack the traditional family," but have never backed down in funding documentaries or supporting their distribution on CBC.

PBS is much more susceptible to the outcries of politicians. The network frequently refuses to air documentaries and sometimes individual affiliates refuse to broadcast films approved by the national network. For example, PBS executives refused to air Kelly Anderson and Tami Gold's Out at Work (1997), a documentary about workforce discrimination, ostensibly because the filmmakers received funds from labor unions, even though many PBS programs receive funds from corporations. Many PBS stations refused to air Marlon Riggs' Tongues Untied (1989), on homosexuality in the black community.

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The Historical Compilation Documentary

One of the largest documentary genres, the historical compilation film, has permitted queer filmmakers to take control of how they are represented by resurrecting and reconfiguring history. Films such as Greta Schiller and Robert Rosenberg's Before Stonewall: The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community (1986) and John Scagliotti, Janet Baus, and Dan Hunt's After Stonewall (1999) vitally document the strength of the queer community. These films permit glbtq people to make initial connections with their past or to re-think their relationship to past events and places.

Historical compilation documentaries comb numerous sources for actuality footage, sometimes referred to as archival footage, to reconstruct history. Actuality footage is film and video shot for another purpose and collected by researchers, as opposed to "originally shot" footage filmed by a documentary unit specifically for that project.

Actuality footage comes from individuals, local and national television news archives, newsreel archives, photographic still archives, public and private organizations, medical research institutions, glbtq community centers, and educational films. The unique characteristic of a compilation documentary is that it selects and assimilates footage from disparate sources to construct a vision of the past.

Most compilation documentaries rely to varying degrees on eyewitnesses to past events. Their testimony becomes a dialogue with and from the past. Eyewitnesses serve a pivotal role in making actuality footage come alive through historical memory. When directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman located eyewitnesses for Paragraph 175 (2000), an investigation of homosexuality in Hitler's Germany, the actuality footage, some never before seen and some familiar, took on new levels of meaning as a result of eyewitness testimony.

The content of compilation documentaries varies, including sweeping historical chronicles, biographical profiles, representations of one historical event, and portraits of places central to queer life. Documentarians mine the past to expand historical memory. Paris Poirier's Last Call at Maud's (1993) and Peter L. Stein's The Castro (1997) both cover decades but they configure the world from the perspective of a specific place and the people who populated those environments, providing history with a more personal narrative.

Queer compilations continue to find creative ways to express history. In Jeff Dupre's Out of the Past (1998), a seventeen-year-old student starting a Gay-Straight Alliance goes in search of queer history, only to discover that oppressive forces prevent student access to historical knowledge. In this film, a student unearthing knowledge of the past becomes the catalyst for sequences constructed with actuality footage.

The Biographical Compilation Documentary

In 1984 Robert Epstein and Richard Schmiechen's The Times of Harvey Milk won an Academy Award for Best Feature Length Documentary, thus signaling a broader acceptance of queer narratives by the film community. This outstanding documentary also set a very high standard for biographical compilation films.

The Times of Harvey Milk made extensive use of actuality footage from news organizations to reconstruct Milk's life and his tragic death and the events that followed. But the film is most impressive in the way it strategically employs the testimony of five eyewitnesses, with different backgrounds and from different sections of society, to convince audiences that Harvey Milk was a leader of all the people of San Francisco.

Biographical compilations vary in their structure and the amount of actuality footage utilized, but all serve the crucial function of placing an individual in the historical record.

Other notable biographical compilations include Richard Schmiechen's Our Minds: The Story of Dr. Evelyn Hooker (1992), Jerry Aronson's The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg (1993), Monte Bramer's Paul Monette: The Brink of Summer's End (1994), Ada Gay Griffin and Michelle Parkerson's A Litany for Survival: The Life of Audre Lorde (1996), and Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir's The Brandon Teena Story (1997). Slade's Hope Along the Wind: The Life of Harry Hay (2001), makes extensive use of actuality footage from disparate sources.

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