What makes life meaningful? What do we leave behind? How can we make sense of a life cut short? Can we reconstruct a life from a collection of pieces and memories, and what is it that makes us want to try?
These are among the questions Uncle Howard, a new documentary by Aaron Brookner, attempts to answer. The uncle in question, Howard Brookner was a gay filmmaker who died of AIDS in 1989. Among the films Howard created in his short lifetime was Burroughs: The Film, a documentary about the life of author William S Burroughs.
The film was shot over five years and cut together from hundreds of hours of footage. When Aaron discovered that that footage – including hours of discussion between his uncle and Burroughs – had been saved, it became his mission to recover it, and to perhaps recover a piece of his family history in the process. Uncle Howard is that journey.
Gay culture continues to remain obsessed – and rightly so – with the multitude of queer lives senselessly lost during the AIDS crisis. But Uncle Howard is a joyful film, even if its tone is thoughtful and curious. Howard Brookner was a man who made his own choices and lived his life exactly the way he wanted to live it, despite what his mother or anyone else thought of his choices. He was a man who knew love, made art that mattered to him, and lived well, if not long. Uncle Howard is a testament to the power of the human spirit, and the beauty which can be found in the ephemeral nature of mortality.
Uncle Howard is the story of a man trying to make sense of an enigma from his past – striving to understand the family legacy which perhaps drove him to filmmaking in the first place. But it also adds a piece to the puzzle of queer life in the 1980s, preserving a piece of our culture which would have otherwise been lost.
Uncle Howard is a quiet, sweet, and tender portrait that illuminates the indelible marks we leave behind when we live life to the fullest. It is a film which encourages us all to remember that life is short, but that this doesn’t mean it can’t be wonderful or that it is meaningless. Life is what you make it. So go make something of yours; be the person you’ve always wanted to be, and live a life with no regrets. Let that be the legacy we all leave in this world.
You can see Uncle Howard Sunday, September 11 at 10:15am at the Alamo South Lamar as a part of the Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival.