In “100 Men,” his new and unusual documentary, New Zealand filmmaker Paul Oremland, now in his 60s, looks back upon forty years of gay history by interviewing men he's had sex with over the years.
When Oremland was growing up during the 1970s, coming out was not an option. It was a different world then--homosexuality was generally viewed as an aberration. Oremland recalls gazing upon beautiful surfer boys on the beach, knowing he would never be like them. "They're going to have happy lives," he recalls himself thinking.
Chris, one of Oremland's first interviewees, speaks of a time when there was "nothing out there." He remembers looking up homosexuality in an encyclopedia.
"I used to look at it all the time for the definition of homosexuality," Chris said. "And it talked about homosexuality as a disease that could be cured with electric shocks."
"What did you do about it?" Oremland asked.
"I tried to seduce all my schoolmates," was Chris' response. "And successfully, actually."
For the next 90 minutes Oremland travels the world, reconnecting with people from his past. Forty years of gay history unfolds as Oremland counts down and chats with his most memorable tricks. He speaks of meeting people on the beach, in parks, and in public restrooms. In his youth he briefly considered becoming a preacher, thinking that God would "cure" him.
"Did you believe, did you have faith?" he asks another interviewee.
"Yeah, I considered going to bible college as well," says the other man as they both laugh.
But even in those less tolerant days, there were people who had happy stories to share. A man named David speaks of writing to his parents, telling them that he's gay and that he's begun smoking.
"I got a letter back saying how devastated they were about the smoking, and that they didn't care about the gay," David said.
“100 Men” reminds us how lonely it was for many people in those days. Oremland remembers his visits with an older man who lived alone and who was more interested in talking than in having sex.
"This is my future," Oremland thought at the time.
It was when Oremland was living in the UK that things began to change. The AIDS crisis began, and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a fierce opponent of homosexuality, convinced Parliament to pass Clause 28, a law banning talk of homosexuality in any educational environment. A furious community took to the streets--suddenly there were Pride Parades and angry protests as people were educated about safe sex.
"The outrage that people felt that here we were in the middle of this atrocious epidemic and instead of our government treating us with compassion it chose that moment to attack," said Chris. "And I think that pushed people out of their comfort zones and onto the streets."
“100 Men” takes viewers on a journey across the decades, from a time when gay rights weren't considered a possibility, to today's era of gay marriage and a level of visibility that was unimaginable when Oremland was a young man. The film covers a lot of ground, at times jumping from one interview to the next a little too quickly, making portions of the film slightly difficult to follow.
But the film's value as a historical documentation of the changes that have taken place over the past forty years cannot be discounted. Many of today's young people take their rights for granted. Coming out is not a struggle for them. They consider HIV to be a non-issue. “100 Men” should be required viewing for them so they can learn about the hard-fought battles which got us to where we are today.
“100 Men” is now available on DVD.