David Weissman had to learn how to ask the hard questions. The co-founder of the Portland Queer Documentary Festival (QDoc) and openly gay documentarian, is descended from Holocaust victims, Harvey Milk's San Francisco and the AIDS crisis. He has little to say about his new film, Conversations with Gay Elders, which debuts this Sunday at the Hollywood Theatre. But the film speaks for itself: It features first-person histories of survivors from the 1980s AIDS epidemic and the pre-Stonewall era.
"Part of the intention of my project is to serve as an intermediary between this generation and young gay men of now and the future," says Weissman. "Because of the AIDS epidemic, there's a loss of generations of storytellers. It hasn't been easy to talk about, and it's not an easy thing for younger people to ask about. I think older gay men feel invisible."
With Conversations, Weissman looks to instigate a dialogue between two queer demographics he sees as socially isolated. "I'm interested in the difficulties gay men have intersecting conversationally, generationally. Somebody may feel predatory or somebody may be worried about being preyed upon. There's always some kind of anxiety."
As North America's only queer documentary film festival, QDoc has always produced a bounty of unfamiliar historical storytelling. This year's 11-film program begins Thursday with The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin, telling the story of the former Southern segregationist turned gay rights pioneer and award-winning author behind the Tales of the City series. He will be present for the screening.
However, one of the biggest stories at this year's QDoc is that Weissman and fellow co-director Russ Gage are stepping back. They're passing the baton to Deb Kemp and Molly King, who will be taking over at the festival's helm for the first time in its decade-long history.
"Its really great that there's new programming blood," explains Weissman. "For a few years, Russ and I have been trying to figure out how to leave QDoc without it ending. Molly and Deb are young, and in some ways, they're incredibly experienced beyond Russ and I."
Yet, the festival itself won't look much different than year's past in terms of its meat.
"We don't have open submissions, we've always been a curated festival," Weissman continues. "Russ and I are well connected in the film world. We look for what comes out post-Sundance or Tribeca."
Conversations is unlikely to be Weissman's creative swan song, but he hopes the film instigates a dialogue between strangers, rather than friends.
"All they (Stonewall-era gay men) knew was that they had these feelings and for all they knew, they may have been the only gay person in the world," says Weissman. "All these stories will be lost when this generation is no longer around."