A Melbourne filmmaker has a made musical documentary about gay artists in New York affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic
Filmmaker Rohan Spong grew up in Melbourne’s outer east and spent a lot of high school wagging and heading to the Elsternwick Classic or Cinema Nova, where he decided he wanted to make films. After ‘faffing’ around in an Arts degree at the University of Melbourne, he bluffed his way into a film job in Los Angeles, and met the eccentric Mimi Sterne-Wolfe in New York. She became the inspiration for All the Way Through Evening, a musical documentary about a group of gay artists in New York affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the early 1980s, and her memorial concerts honouring them every World AIDS Day.
“Mimi and I decided to hang out, and during the course of hanging out, she told me the story of composer and collaborator Eric Benson and the Salon Concerts, and that became the basis of the film,” says Rohan, pictured above with Mimi. “So I said, ‘Look I’ll come back next year and film you rehearsing and preparing for the next concert and make a documentary about it.’”
Even though Rohan was quite removed from the pandemic in New York – he only vaguely remembers Australia’s Grim Reaper ads – he thought this was a story he needed to tell.
“I come from a generation that came after the initial outbreak of AIDS, I didn’t know anyone who had died, and didn’t know anyone who knew anyone who had died as I was growing up. The film is my generation trying to access that time and place, a small group of people who came and went from this one room, and now that room is empty, and the only person who’s around who remembers that room is Mimi. And she’s adamant that people remember.
“Mimi and I have a very complicated relationship. She’s my mischievous best friend who wants to go out for cocktails at midday, other times we sit around drinking cups of tea, or sitting watching YouTube clips together. She inspires me to be a better artist, to make art for the right reasons, and to always question my reasons.”
Rohan wrote, shot and edited the film himself, funded by “frequent flyer points, donations from Pozible, and an executive producer who came on to pay for the sound and music”. He has found the response to his moving and poignant film quite surprising. “During the first screening, a woman fainted, but all the screenings have had standing ovations, and people make an effort to come up to me afterwards, people who lived through that time, and are grateful that someone a world away, and an age away and too young to remember it decided to pick up a camera and make a film about it.
“People do cry a lot during the last song (‘Walt Whitman in 1989’ performed by Gilles Denizot and Mimi Sterne-Wolfe) because it’s a beautiful marriage of words and music. There are lots of sad moments, but also a lot of happy ones as well – and a lot of wisecracks!”
All the Way Through Evening opens for a limited season at Cinema Nova on November 29.