This musical documentary follows concert pianist Mimi Stern-Wolfe as she prepares for her yearly concert honouring her composer friends who were lost to HIV/AIDS in New York City.
Mimi Stern-Wolfe is a remarkable woman, a gifted pianist who has dedicated herself for more than 20 years to honour the works and lives of American composers who were victims of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
an impressive effort
Australian filmmaker Rohan Spong’s musical documentary All the Way Through Evening is a moving and eloquent tribute to Stern-Wolfe and her mission as well as providing illuminating insights into the lingering impact of the disease.
The doco follows Mimi as she prepares for the 2010 Benson AIDS Series concert, an annual event which she launched in 1990 in memory of her friend, singer/actor/musician/director Eric Benson, who died in 1988, aged 42.
As she tells Spong, she has a simple motivation: 'I do these concerts for years and years because I knew the people that we lost and I cared for them and wanted to preserve the memory of their lives and their music and their talents. I wanted their legacy not to be forgotten by the current generation."
The concert is held in Manhattan on December 1, World AIDS Day. The doco opens in Australia on November 29 at Melbourne’s Cinema Nova, Dendy Newtown, Brisbane’s Palace Centro, Adelaide’s Mercury Cinema and Dendy Canberra. All proceeds from the December 1 screenings will be donated to HIV/AIDS organisations in each state.
Disappointingly, Spong features just two performances from the NY concert, Robert Chesley’s 'Autumn,’ sung by counter-tenor Marshall Coid, and 'Walt Whitman in 1989,’ sung by French Heldentenor Gilles Denizot, accompanied by Mimi on piano, both hauntingly beautiful. The latter song, composed by Chris DeBlasio (who died in 1993, aged 34) with lyrics by poet Perry Brass, imagines Whitman, the gay poet, arriving in the AIDS ward of a New York hospital, nursing a dying man and transporting his body on a boat which sails '"¦all the way through evening".
Given the running time of 75 minutes, more concert footage would have been welcome. So too would have been a greater insight into the background of Stern-Wolfe. We’re told her parents were immigrants, she’s lived for more than 30 years in an East Village apartment cluttered with videotapes and audio cassettes of the concerts, she has no personal vanity and she used to hang out at parties with Benson, but little else.
Stern-Wolfe recalls that she first heard of friends who had died horrific deaths in the 1970s from a then-mysterious disease. Coid was a friend of Chesley, who died in 1990, aged 47 when, no longer able to enjoy life, he decided to stop eating and drinking.
Coid speaks poignantly of the ostracism experienced by many HIV/AIDS sufferers in that era, saying, 'I remember the hate it brought out, the people that rushed to judgment against gay people."
Brass tells Spong he stopped counting the number of people he knew who had succumbed to the disease when he got to 35; another friend could not continue after his tally reached 75.
Now, says Blass, AIDS is regarded as a 'backburner" issue by many people who have little knowledge of the devastating impact of the epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s.
Among the other musical stand-outs which Spong films during rehearsals in Mimi’s flat are Kevin Oldham's 'Not Even If I Try’ and 'The Disappearance of Light,’ another DeBlasio/Brass collaboration, both sung by Denizot.
Stern-Wolfe is a natural on-camera talent, eloquent, passionate, unassuming and possessed of a wry sense of humour.
Multi-tasking as director, producer, cinematographer and editor, Spong has crafted a handsome-looking production despite working on a frugal budget. It’s an impressive effort following his 2009 debut, T Is for Teacher, which looked at four American secondary school teachers who made the gender transition from male to female while trying to keep their jobs in the school system.
The doco concludes on a potentially worrying note. Mimi is in her 70s and, by her own admission, slowing down. The question posed Denizot is: After her, who will carry on her wonderful legacy?