Remembering Artie Bressan: Pioneer Gay Filmmaker

Artie Bressan (1943-1987), pioneer gay filmmaker

 

The following essay was published by The Bressan Project who invited Arthur Dong to write a remembrance for pioneer gay filmmaker, Artie Bressan, in commemoration of his death on July 29, 1987. For more information visit The Bressan Project.

MEETING ARTIE, 1970

By Arthur Dong, July 29, 2020

San Francisco: 1970 was a heady year for me. The ’67 Summer of Love, followed by the ’69 Stonewall Riots, led to a new kind of freedom and I was high. Public, my animated film that skewered the normalization of violence and oppression, won the California High School Film Festival. Takahashi, a trendy gift shop notorious for its young gay clerks, hired me at $2.16 an hour. I moved into my first apartment, living amid low-income families, trans people, sex workers, drug addicts and the homeless in a shared $125 per month Tenderloin studio. I was 16. And I met Artie Bressan. 

September 14 (or it might have been the 15th or 16th since I clustered dates in my diary): Artie was introduced to me by a Takahashi co-worker who was dating both Artie and myself. He had long hair then, perhaps tied in a ponytail, but maybe I’m thinking of Harvey Milk — the two had similar looks. 

Artie (we called him “Artie,” not “Arthur”) and I shared ambitions for independence in filmmaking. Hearing that I was a high school senior, Artie decisively said I should contact Van Halsey, director of admissions at Hampshire College in Amherst; surely I’d be scholarship material. Newly opened, Hampshire was a progressive, even experimental college that bucked traditions and allowed students to shape their own curriculum. That sounded good to me, so I sent Halsey a print of Public with a cover letter.

September 27 (or the 24th, 25th or 26th): I don’t recall who exactly was there, but a group of us got together for a movie night. I showed Public and Artie showed his films, all Super-8. Among his was Boys, a film about two boys, one sexually free and the other bookish, who meet while cruising in a park and then have sex. I wrote in my diary: “I really dug Artie’s films — especially Boys because it’s so much like how I feel and how much I’d like to — and he really dug mine.”

I don’t remember meeting Artie again, and I never heard back from Hampshire College. In 1971, I enrolled into the Film School at San Francisco State University but then dropped out; I tuned in to other desires, but made a self-promise to return to film someday. Meanwhile, Artie’s career flourished, and watching his films gave me a vicarious connection to filmmaking. Looking back, I can see now that Artie’s encouragement and his choice of stories to tell on screen had an indelible impact on me, a young gay filmmaker, at a time when such mentors were absent. Thanks, Artie, for shining a beacon in my heady 1970.

© 2020 Arthur Dong, DeepFocus Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Single-use, one-time permission granted to The Bressan Project.