Alison Duke answers questions on documentary filmmaking

Katherine MurrayHIV Endgame Conference, People Living with HIV, Women*

Alison Duke, of Goldelox Productions, spoke to us at the HIV Endgame conference about how she tells the stories of women living with HIV on film, and the opportunities she sees to expand our knowledge through art.

Descriptive Transcript

The HIV Endgame logo appears on screen. Text reads: Alison Duke answers questions on documentary filmmaking. Alison Duke sits in front of a wood-paneled wall and answers questions from off-camera interviewers. The text of each question appears on screen in between clips.

Alison Duke: Hi, I’m Alison Duke and I’m a documentary maker. I’ve been making films for over 15 years — actually I started with music videos — and I just fell in love with the idea of making documentaries. And for the past 8 years — 8 to 10 years — I’ve been making social justice films, and particularly looking at women living with HIV.

Q: What issues do you think we need to make more films about?

Duke: Something we have to address is that there’s a lot of walls still built up in the community, and we should make work that tears down those walls and build bridges of conversation. So, you know, even though I’m talking about women living with HIV, how am I making work that will also relate to men? How — the work that — you know, that somebody else may make about gay men living with HIV, how does that relate to women? And making sure that we have — we make the work accessible to a variety of different communities.

Because, when we see each other — like, you know what it’s like watching a film. It might have nothing to do with you, and it could be from, like, the 1800s, but because there’s something that connects you with the leading characters, maybe, the way they approached a problem — solving a problem or whatever — then you can relate to the whole film. That’s what we have to do with the work, I think. So, the issues will always change, but it’s how we connect and deal with the issues that I think we can build in the work.

Q: What does it mean to represent women’s stories on screen?

Duke: Intersectionality is something that’s really important, I think, for me as an artist. And I’m looking at it structurally as well, with the — now, doing a hybrid work with intersecting, actually, technique, you know, hybrid documentary and dramatic work together in one film, just to kind of, you know, push technically, you know, those ideas together — but, intersectionality usually gets honed into this category of diversity. As long as we have a diverse group of people, and the palette from brown or from black to brown to, you know, whatever, you know, to white, then we’re diverse.

And so, we don’t really — we don’t go a step further, usually, and talk about, how are people contributing to the larger conversation? You know, that’s what diversity is. It’s not just having people represented on the screen. How are they contributing to the conversation? And how are they and individuals being, like, reflected on the screen as someone with agency? That they have their own thoughts? That hasn’t been like, it’s not regurgitation of something else, or hasn’t been projected on them. But, how are you allowing those people on screen — or in a conversation in the room — have their own thoughts without a pushback? Without a larger oppression? Where they’re free to be who they are, and say things in the way they want to say it? How they want, you know, the content — what they want to say, with freedom, without that judgment.

And that’s a bigger piece of work. So, you know, I think in a lot of spaces in Canada, you know, we’re trying to move towards that, but you can see that we’re not quite there.

Q: What can we learn from film and art?

Duke: Well, art gets us to feel, you know? Sometimes we’re so up here with, you know, trying to solve a problem. You know, come up with all this, you know, medical stuff that will help solve the problem, or the biology, or whatever. But sometimes, you know, how we feel could lead us to solutions. Or at least get us to look at issues in a different way.

That’s why, you know, “trust your gut,” you know? It’s that feeling, that gut feeling. We’ve got to use that sometimes. And also, scientists know this. And, when they’re doing the research, they — sometimes the breakthrough comes from that trusting their instinct or gut about an issue. So, art is a good way of packaging that feeling. And so, you know, you don’t have to be in the lab. You can be somewhere out — somewhere else, out in the world and experiencing that same feeling by yourself, or with a group of people.

Piano chords play as the OHTN media logo appears.


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Note on content: Interview questions have been edited for brevity.