Houston and Hudson "Rock the Boat" in HIV Endurance Race
Not many filmmakers have to go more than 10 days without a shower, only a hammock to sleep in, a tiny video camera, a couple of batteries and a single light strapped onto their head. But Director Bobby Houston volunteered for exactly this situation when his partner, Robert Hudson, entered the TransPac, a 2,250 mile yacht race from Los Angeles to Hawaii. Not only was Hudson entering the race for the first time, but he was taking an inexperienced and entirely HIV+ crew with him. When all was said and done, Houston shot over 100 hours of footage and crafted them into a moving documentary. At once a suspenseful sports film, “Rock the Boat” is also a personal movie about living with HIV in the 90s.
Throughout 1998, “Rock the Boat” screened at numerous festivals under the title, “The Human Race.” Houston and Hudson formed their own company, Tell The Truth Pictures, in order to promote and self-distribute the film. indieWIRE sat down with both of them to talk about what it means to tell the truth in pictures. “Rock the Boat” opens in New York City on March 5.
indieWIRE: Was there ever any interest from the Hollywood establishment to get involved with the picture?
Bobby Houston: We heard that people in Hollywood were pitching our story as a movie. Somebody had read about it in the paper and rushed into New Line and said, ‘I’ve got a great idea for a movie.’ The executive knew us and said, ‘Hold it baby, they already shot that one.’ HBO picked up the film for cable. They are looking to premiere in April, but then play it again in July, during the race. They encouraged us to release theatrically and they gave us a break. They could have broadcast the movie sooner, but they gave us time for theatrical. We have the video rights, so we’ll do that ourselves.
iW: What are your plans to help “Rock the Boat” reach the widest audience?
Houston: What we have found, is the appeal of the movie is pretty broad. It’s not just young, gay guys who are going to circuit parties. Lots of families and mothers, wives, sisters and across the board people like the movie. It’s silver haired guys with earrings and their lovers, and it’s men who aren’t just jumping out to see the latest movie. There is a lot of cross over potential.
We did a bunch of festivals; half of them straight and the rest gay. We won awards in Hawaii, Philadelphia and Florida. The gay audience was no more attuned to grab this movie than the straight audience.
Robert Hudson: It’s going to start out slowly, through word of mouth. We’re also going to sink enough money in for advertising to get a pretty big presence. Nobody wants another AIDS movie, ’cause the stigma has stayed with it for 16 years. Wonderful movies have been made, we’ve cried for years. But I just don’t think we have it in us anymore. So that’s why this film is so refreshing. There is a way to somewhat survive better. It’s not guaranteed, but it’s better if you have a little faith, or even if you only hope your turning-the-corner, wanting-to-live is half the battle. When I was diagnosed, I didn’t know anyone with AIDS. But for the people who are diagnosed now, they can see these guys on the boat.
But you definitely don’t have to have AIDS to enjoy this movie. It’s a weird kind of date movie. If you’ve been in this battle for 16 years and you want to watch a little of what the end might be like? Then it’s a date movie.
iW: Inside the athletic drama of sailing 24 hours a day, “Rock the Boat” includes a lot of footage of people living with HIV. Did you plan for that to be such a prominent part of the story?
Houston: That was the intention of the whole project, to take unsung heroes, guys from all walks of life and say, ‘This is what they look like and this is what they’re capable of.’ They are capable of just about anything. And thank god for the advancements in treatment and consciousness. The point of the project was to create that platform.
iW: But you could have just shown the guys sailing. You purposely kept images of one of the guys getting sick and footage of everyone taking their numerous meditations.
Houston: Yeah, and the captain of the boat calls everyone a faggot. We definitely took off the gloves and let it all happen. For me, that was great.
iW: Images of the boat have appeared in advertisement for the pharmaceutical company, Roxanne. When did they get involved?
Hudson: Roxanne got in from the beginning, before the boat even left. They were so smart. Tom Sawyer from Roxanne was the first guy who saw the proposal and he said, ‘Sure. We’ll help you out.’ It was his vision. There was no official deal struck. Roxanne is just a great drug company.