John Greyson

John Greyson, film- and video-maker, actor, director (born at Nelson, BC 13 Mar 1960). John Greyson achieved international recognition in the 1990s in the independent gay cinema circuit. A prolific film- and video-maker, Greyson is also active in the Canadian gay, AIDS and media activist communities. Among his 18 completed videos are Kipling Meets the Cowboys (1985), Moscow Does Not Believe in Queers (1986), The AIDS Epidemic (1987), and The World is Sick (sic) (1989). He made his first feature film, Urinal, in 1988, followed by a short film, The Making of "Monsters" (1991), and the features Zero Patience (1993) and Lilies (1996).

Greyson's subjects - informed by his commitment to gay rights, AIDS activism and other political issues - are presented through film in inventive, playful ways. His filmic style is informed by his experience with video, a medium which serves activist and artistic agendas. Video activism treats the camera as a collaborator in political action and its post-production flexibility allows the videomaker - more easily than the filmmaker - to layer images and sounds and to incorporate pre-existing footage. His reliance on forms such as music video, flashback-driven narrative and docudrama result in films which treat political and theoretical subjects without sacrificing their appeal as pure entertainment.

Underlying John Greyson's work is his belief that political issues cannot be conveyed by conventional documentary techniques. His approach is rather to explore the fabulous/fictitious underside of factual events. Urinal, for example, assembles a cast of famous artists of ambiguous sexuality to investigate the mass arrest of men engaging in washroom sex in Orillia, Ont, in 1987. Zero Patience opens with the fact-based character, "Patient Zero," a Québecois flight attendant blamed for bringing HIV to North America, and spirals out to explore corporate AIDS-drug profiteering, the Victorian obsession with first causes, and the cultural politics of blame (for carrying the AIDS virus).

Greyson's works, whatever their format or budget, are colourful, humorous, sexy and campy; performance is central to their appeal. Some launch into song, drawing on the musical form beloved of many gay audiences. In others, his characters take on roles-within-roles; famous figures such as Frida Kahlo (Urinal), Sir Richard Burton (Zero Patience) and Tennessee Williams (You Taste American, 1986, video) are cheekily resuscitated and assigned unlikely roles.

Lilies, based on Michel-Marc BOUCHARD'S play of the same name, is Greyson's first adaptation of a work written for theatre. The script, shifting between prison narrative and historical drama, offers a "stories within stories" structure which is highly suitable to the filmmaker's own approach. The film, reminiscent of Genet in its elegiac homoeroticism, has a visual beauty that deepens the sense of loss, hope and anger that animate all Greyson's work.

In 2003 John Greyson and composer David Wall created the video Fig Trees, released in a film version in 2009. A feature-length documentary narrated by an albino squirrel and including both opera and Gertrude Stein, it premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, where it was winner of the Teddy Award for best documentary.

Other notable awards and citations for John Greyson include Teddy Awards for The Making of Monsters and Pissoir (1989), a GEMINI AWARD in 2002 for directing an episode of Made in Canada, a GENIE AWARD nomination for best direction for Lilies, which also won the best Canadian film award from the Montréal World Film Festival, and best Canadian short for The Making of Monsters from the Toronto International Film Festival. In 2007 he was the recipient of the prestigious Bell Canada Award in Video Art.

In 2005 John Greyson became a full-time associate professor at York University.