An interview with director Dante Alencastre, who remembers a Los Angeles Act-Up organiser in this fascinating new feature

BY NADIA DAVIES

The number and range of people involved in the struggle against Aids is larger and wider than we can possibly know. It’s proven once again by this intriguing portrait of Connie Norman, a local L.A activist who worked tirelessly to make a difference. Here, DIVA chats to director Dante Alencastre to find out more.

Describe your film in three words.

Legendary, reactive, resistance.

What inspired you to make the film?

I am always inspired by my LGBTIQ+ community in L.A, full of fierce, funny, intentional, and mindful friends and activists. I believe that Connie Norman epitomises the strength and fearlessness that our community is being built upon, the shoulders we stand on. Discovering her story gave the opportunity to examine my own life and my experience being in NYC during that pandemic. It was cathartic and redemptive and allow me to pay homage to everyone who fought, lived through it, and are still living full realised as long term survivors or warriors as I like to think of them.

What does screening at BFI Flare mean to you?

I am proud BFI alumni. Three years ago I flew to London with my film Raising Zoey, and had the in-person experience; the hospitable staff, the savvy audiences, the chilly March weather. Alas, this year I am home, comfily warm and dealing with no jet lag. But I am grateful that folks outside London can get to stream all the wonderfully curated programme of films.

What do you hope audiences will take away from this story?

I hope it gives them pause, reflection, and hope. We are still in the middle of a pandemic; lives have been changed in significant and painful ways. We are still divided. But there is a lot we can do together to change the status quo intentionally and mindfully. Connie teaches that one voice can move mountains, in times of crises and in times of peace. We must continue to be vigilant, take to the streets, and act up.

Why is it important that queer films and documentaries are showcased every year at an event like this?

Festivals like these are vital for the empowerment of our youth. Seeing yourself represented on screen can possibly be lifesaving, due to this virtual platform I trust that folks in far flung will get to watch one of our stories and feels less alone. Politically we are not where we should be; I am thinking about our American anti-trans bills and even here with the lack of support to ban conversion therapy. There’s still loads of work to do, and us storytellers have more relevant, resonant, and disruptive tales to tell.

BFI Flare is completely online this year, giving everyone across the UK the opportunity to watch the amazing line-up of films available. How important is accessibility with regards to representation on screen?

That is the big plus of streaming. Anyone with a device will be able to watch a story that may reflect their situation, gives them hope, introspection, and resources. Also, it inspires filmmakers to re-imagine the way they create art; I know that was true for me and my team.

What are your words of advice for any aspiring queer filmmakers/actors?

Be flexible, be inventive, be disruptive, and as Connie would tell you, be yourself because you know who yourself is. Keep creating your stories and the community will embrace you.

How has the pandemic impacted you creatively?

It has taught me to be patient, flexible, innovative, and rewired my brain about the way stories can be created and still be compelling and impactful. When I saw thousands of people chanting alongside Black Lives Matter during the pandemic and chanting the same chants that our community did during the 80s and 90s, it was the fuel that kept our team going during production. To never forget where I came from and to start mentoring young filmmakers.

Who is your LGBTIQ+ screen hero?

Definitely, maestro Pedro Almodovar. I grew up as a queer Latinx man and artist, watching and experiencing his stories. His body of work taught me to think critically about my Catholic upbringing, my queer shame and joy, my family, porn, addiction, gender identity, powerful women, camp humour. I could go on. But I won’t.  

Other than buying tickets for BFI Flare, how can people best support independent queer media?

Follow us on social media, invites to host screenings at your university, school, church, organisation, office, the visual stories we tell have the power to change hearts and minds in very meaningful ways. That has been my experience thus far.

AIDS DIVA: The Legend Of Connie Norman plays as part of the BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival, 17-28 March.

Only reading DIVA online? You’re missing out. For more news, reviews and commentary, check out the latest issue. It’s pretty badass, if we do say so ourselves.

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