One of Roger Goodman's favorite moments in the trailer for his upcoming film is also the hardest to sit through. Gregory Ignatius, a middle-aged man living with AIDS, admits to the camera that the first time he knew what "grace" actually meant was the moment he came to terms with his roommate's death.
Those who don't know Roger Goodman might not understand the significance of that confession. But in Goodman's world, it speaks to heartbreaking paradox.
"I really believe that as the queer body was dying by the thousands, queer spirit grew and grew," Goodman said.
From outside his neighborhood coffee shop in Rogers Park, Goodman recalls that when the AIDS crisis swept through Chicago in the 1980s, gay people united against illness and discrimination. Now, he said, those days of kinship are over.
"People aren't dying anymore," Goodman said. "There's no need for compassion anymore. There's no need for respect."
Goodman's "paradox" is the subject of his upcoming documentary, From the Ashes Risen, from Tribal Elder Productions. Tentatively due out next spring, From the Ashes Risen follows the stories of 10 middle-aged men living with AIDS in Chicago. It also includes conversations with three nurses who treated AIDS patients and LGBTQ youth.
The film is not just a historical look at Chicago during the AIDS epidemic. It's meant to serve as a conversation between at-risk youth and elders. Goodman worries that infection rates among queer youth are high because they haven't lived through an epidemic. He wants elders to relay that history.
It's a history that Goodman is attached to personally. He's living with AIDS, a fact when he is reminded of when he counts out the 60 pills he takes daily. As a spiritual director in the '80s, he facilitated AIDS funerals for more than a decade. People don't talk about AIDS now, he said. "They have no use for the story," he explained. "They're having a good time, so it's irrelevant."
In an eight-minute trailer for From the Ashes Risen, Goodman and two other gay men talk about finding out they were HIV-positive and losing close friends to AIDS. A nurse who worked in the AIDS unit at Advocate Illinois Masonic Hospital also talks about her experiences caring for AIDS patients. Original music by Sheldon Atovsky forecasts a heavy-hearted film.
Goodman's filmmaking approach is far from conventional, perhaps even a little ambitious for an ailing 64-year-old first-time filmmaker. He pulls from his wallet a list of the 29 medications he's taking, complete with dosages and ailments they're intended to quell. Is he nervous that health problems will prevent him from making the film?
He shakes his head no. His health has been bad for the last two months, but he's getting better, he said.
Still, he has no funding to start shooting. He needs to raise $185,000 to finish the project. He's a retired harpsichordist living on disability. He's not sure how he'll scrape together the money, but he's confident that he will. Several people have already offered to help him for free.
The film's oddities may also border on controversial for some. Goodman regularly refers to the 1980s AIDS epidemic as a gay "holocaust," stating that gay people were the victims of institutionalized homophobia. Goodman was raised Jewish, and he said he leaves the "h" in "holocaust" lower-case to differentiate between the AIDS epidemic and the Jewish Holocaust. But the explanation may not satisfy all. Goodman also previously referred to the epidemic as "genocide" but gave up that label because he said it upset so many people.
And there's something else unique about Goodman's plans for the film. From the Ashes Risen is spiritually inspired. Goodman believes in queer mysticism and magic. He sees gay men as a "tribe," bound by ancient history and special gifts. He supports the tenants of the Radical Faeries, a subculture of gay men who embrace gender fluidity, communalism, and spirituality. In making the film, he wants to inspire older gay men to mentor LGBTQ youth, teach youth to revere their elders, convince the community to abandon its "individualism," and heal what he calls the "queer spirit." And he plans to do it in less than one hour and 45 minutes.
"What I think we have to pursue right now are spiritual issues, not political issues," Goodman said of his peers. "Gay men have bought into consumerism, and materialism, and individualism."
While the idea of gay men as a "tribe" may not resonate with audiences everywhere, From the Ashes Risen grounds its message in relatable truths. Goodman's nostalgia for a coherent queer community is also informed by his feelings that the LGBTQ community needs to heal racial, economic, and generational divides. It's a call that has been echoed by many LGBT activists this year.
When asked if he'll be satisfied if audiences take away his message of community,without adopting a message of spirituality, Goodman shrugged, as if he can't imagine one without the other. He's been told by fellow crew members that he needs to separate himself emotionally from the film. He isn't sure he wants to. For Goodman, it's not just about making a documentary. It's a film about all of his deepest hopes, a last-ditch effort to bring us back from bar culture and retail therapy. His ambitions are at once idealistic and incredibly simple. "I think what I want in terms of the making of the film, I want a want a family," Goodman said.
He talked about it as if it's inevitable: LGBTQ people will come together in the ways he hopes, and his film will be a part of that.
"There was Stonewall. There was the decade of AIDS," he said. "In 2010, it's another decade. And a tipping point is happening."
Goodman and his crew will be presenting the trailer for From the Ashes Risen at Northeastern Illinois University, 5500 N. St. Louis, in its auditorium Thursday, Oct. 7, at 5 p.m. For more information, go to www.fromtheashesrisen.org .