David C Jones explores the laughs behind enemy lines

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2010 marks the finale in the Queer History Project’s film series with five shorts set to screen as part of Riffs on the Theme of Activism at this year’s Vancouver Queer Film Festival. Included among the five shorts is Laughing Behind Enemy Lines from local filmmaker David C Jones.

Behind Enemy LinesAccording to Jones modern social change is not always just fought for by activists and politicians but is also led by the funny men and women who disarm critics and naysayers with a sharp tongue and a quick wit.

“Marion Davies and Mabel Normand were getting attention with silent slapstick years before North America granted the rights of women to vote or be recognized,” illustrated Jones.

Jones points further to the likes of Jewish comics George Jessel and Jack Benny who were being “terribly witty at the height of Nazi terrorism” and Bill Cosby and Dick Gregory who “made people slap their knees while Malcolm X punched the air”.

“Women were burning their bras while Mary Tyler Moore & Bea Arthur were baring their souls,” continued Jones. “And in the 21st Century, Neil Patrick Harris and Ellen DeGeneres are downright funny as gays became afforded more rights.”

But what of Vancouver? In his documentary, Jones set out to find out who the clowns were locally that made people laugh when the mood was much less tolerant , when homosexuality was illegal, and where the marginalized audiences went to be encouraged by their audacity.

Meeting with club owners and performers from the 1950s through the 1980s including Bill Monroe, Peter Bidlake, Ron Dutton, Rod MacLaughlin, Roger Learn, Reg Manning and Jamie Stevens, Jones found himself most surprised by the fact that none of the subjects of his documentary knew they were doing something different or important.

“They thought of themselves as just entertainers or club owners filling a need – they didn’t recognize they were galvanizing the community and setting wheels in motion,” explained Jones.

“The idea that a person would perform a gay show for a gay audience getting people laughing and singing when there was persecution from all sides and you had no rights whatsoever and could actually get arrested for dressing as a woman, made me think of what duress they were under or what tenacity they had to have to just go out there and do it.”

For Jones that truly is Laughing Behind Enemy Lines.

Riffs on the Theme of Activism
22nd Vancouver Queer Film Festival
Cinemark Tinseltown
Monday, 16 August 2010 @ 7pm

Riffs on the Theme of Activism marks the finale of the Queer History Project film series. David C Jones, Gwen Haworth, Byron Chief Moon, Joe Average and Jamie Griffiths bring five short films that speak to Vancouver’s long and courageous history of queer activism. From AIDS awareness to urban gardening, unsung heroes to local leaders, activism is broadly interpreted and portrayed in this premiere Queer History Project screening. Visit http://www.queerfilmfestival.ca for more information.

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