Article Title:Review: Men Like Us
Author or Credit:Jacqui Stanford
Published on:13th August 2012 - 03:23 pm
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Story ID:12121
Text:Filmmaker Christopher Banks holds a mirror up to gay New Zealand, allowing us to see all its beauty and all its blemishes, in his documentary Men Like Us which premieres in Auckland on Wednesday. Nine very different gay New Zealand men tell their stories, and from finding the strength to come out while an elite sportsman, to trying to marry being gay with being a man of the cloth, their tales could not be more different. But from men like Olympian Blake Skjellerup and former Catholic priest Michael Bancroft, we re-learn that while things can be pretty awful, yes indeed, they do get better. Banks created Men Like Us as a response to decades of local and international research showing that gay men are at higher risk for depression and suicide. The filmmaker, who is also a journalist and blogger under the moniker Bipolar Bear, has a gift for gently pushing people to open up completely on the best and worst times of their lives. He manages to elicit tiny details which speak volumes, such as DJ Karl Moser describing the real impact of being diagnosed HIV positive, recalling standing on a dance-floor letting people he’s slept with know so they don’t hear it second hand. James Hope remembers having scissors and protractors thrown at him in class at a Catholic boys’ school in New Plymouth where he is bullied mercilessly, while Kawerau native Todd Karehana tells us he used to do everything from put out his eyelashes to eating to gain weight to make himself seem more masculine in the hope he wouldn’t be bullied as much. While there are plenty of coming out stories in Men Like Us, including that of Rob Calder, now 78, who came out in the later stages of his life, what is clear is that coming out, while tough, is often really just the beginning. Thirty-year-old bear Raymond Wilson discusses the body image issues that can be tied up with being gay, explaining how once when he was standing a nightclub someone came up to him on the dancefloor and told him if he lost ten kilos he’d look really good. Moser delves into the judgement he received from within the community after he was diagnosed HIV positive, while Ivan Yeo discusses finding out about the gay food chain, where you have to be white, young and blonde to be at the top of the heap. Skjellerup, probably one of the fittest and healthiest gay men from New Zealand, describes his one-time descent into drinking and partying, another issue at the underbelly of our community, the film suggests. There are so many men and so many stories, yet while so very different, they are not overwhelming and they do not trample upon each other due to the gay thread which keeps them tidily linked. There is plenty that is positive and lots of laugh out loud moments; we learn about Wilson’s first foray to an underwear party and Calder’s love of life modelling. We hear that although many of these men have faced the toughest of times, they have found strength and stability through everything from tattoos, to amazing mums, to healthy relationships. The most poignant moments come during OUTLine Chair Stephen Rainbow’s beautiful tribute to the love he has found and lost. It’s devastatingly heart-breaking, yet somehow we come out of it feeling hopeful. His story really sums up what Men Like Us reflects in its role as a mirror on gay New Zealand: some scars, but plenty of hope. Men Like Us premieres at Rialto in Auckland on Wednesday at 6.30PM, you can buy tickets here. Jacqui Stanford - 13th August 2012    
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