Indie filmmaker brings award-winning work to York

Filmmaker, writer, activist and York University film Professor John Greyson (left) will present his acclaimed feature film, Proteus, at York on Nov. 24.

A potent mix of history, sexuality and politics, Proteus is set in the year 1725 on Robben Island, the penal colony of Cape Town (where Nelson Mandela would be held two centuries later). Based on a true story, the film tells the tale of two young convicts who meet while working in the prison garden. Claas Blank (Rouxnet Brown) is an aboriginal South African livestock herder, determined to escape. Rijkhaart Jacobsz (Neil Sandilands) is a Dutch sailor serving time for sodomy. Despite vast racial and cultural taboos, they embark on a tentative affair that neither has words for. Their furtive relationship is witnessed by Virgil Niven, the Scottish botanist who runs the prison garden. This triangle of fascination and repression continues for 10 years, ignored by the prison authorities, until Niven inadvertently brings about their downfall.

Greyson wrote, directed and co-produced the film, which received its world premiere at the 2003 Toronto International Film Festival. It went on to theatrical release and screenings at major festivals around the world, from Sydney to Berlin to Rio, winning best actor for Rouxnet Brown at the Cape Town World Film Festival.

Proteus is just the most recent in a series of provocative, award-winning productions that have brought Greyson international recognition. His first feature film, Urinal, won the Teddy Award at the 1989 Berlin Film Festival and put him at the cutting edge of contemporary queer cinema. His satirical musical short, The Making of Monsters, about the beating death of a gay man, won best short at the 1991 Toronto film festival as well as a Teddy Award. His internationally exhibited agitprop AIDS musical Zero Patience (1993) won best Canadian feature at the Sudbury film festival, and his adaptation of Michel Marc Bouchard’s play Lilies, a prison drama dealing with guilt, homosexuality, priests and young love, won a Genie for best picture in 1996. The Law of Enclosures (2000), a film charting the 40-year decline of a marriage, which Greyson wrote, directed and produced, earned lead actor Brendan Fletcher a Genie for best actor.

Right: A scene from Proteus

As a director for television, Greyson’s credits include numerous episodes for such series as “Queer as Folk”, “Made in Canada” (Best Director Gemini, 2002) and “Drop the Beat”. He was awarded the Toronto Arts Award for film and video in 2000.

Greyson is the author of Urinal and Other Stories (Power Plant/Art Metropole, 1993) and co-editor of Queer Looks, a critical anthology of gay/lesbian media theory (Routledge, 1993). He has taught film theory and production in Canada, the US, Cuba and South Africa. Earlier this year, he joined the full-time faculty at York, teaching film production.

Greyson will present Proteus on Thursday, Nov. 24, at 7 pm in the Nat Taylor Cinema, N102 Ross Building at York University, 4700 Keele St. The screening is part of the Film Department’s ongoing Independents series on indie Canadian cinema. Admission is free. For more information, call ext. 22174 or email