The Ashes Action  (1992)

AIDS Community Television weekly series
originally telecast September 16, 1996
~ (29:00)
produced and edited by James Wentzy, with Jerry Lakatos                                         

Additional Cameras: James Wentzy, John Schabel, Tony Arena, Shraga Lev, Andrew Chang,
Gloria G. Horning, Elaine Angelopoulos, Tim McCarthy.

    [from a flyer announcing the 1992 Ashes Action: ]

in Washington D.C. Sunday October 11, 1992 at 1:00 P.M. 

have lost
someone to
For more than a decade,
your government has mocked your
loss. You have spoken out in anger, joined
political protests, carried fake coffins and mock
tombstones, and splattered red paint to represent
someone's HIV-positive blood, perhaps
your own. George Bush believes that
the White House gates shield him,
from you, your loss, and his responsibility
for the AIDS crisis. Now it is time to
bring AIDS home to George Bush.
On October 11th, we will carry
the actual ashes of people
we love in funeral
procession to
the White House.
In an act of grief and
rage and love, we
will deposit their
ashes on the
White House

us to
twelve years
of genocidal
AIDS policy.

for more information about attending the funeral (with or without ashes) Or
about sending ashes to ACT UP New York for someone else to deliver, call
Shane at ^ ^   ^ ^^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^   or David at  ^ ^ ^  ^ ^ ^ ^^ ^ ^^ ^ ^ ^ ^

THE ASHES ACTION     Eyedrum Screening

"The Ashes Action"  (shown at Eyedrum)  makes the personal highly public, as it follows a group of protesters on their way to the White House to fling their loved ones' ashes on the lawn. This protest, equal parts poignancy and rage, is mirrored by this complexly structured, emotionally involving video which uses multiple views of the event to directly involve the viewer in the intensity of the action.

ACT UP Fight Back: Art and Activism in
the Time of AIDS

Wednesday, March 30, 2005
Eyedrum, Atlanta, GA
Friday, April 1, 2005    
Emory University

REVIEW   (excerpt) 

James Wentzy is one of the most prolific of AIDS activist videomakers, having produced over 150 half-hour programs in his series AIDS Community Television. The Ashes Action documents an ACT UP protest in Washington DC in October of 1992. Motivated by the expressed desire of several activists for “their bodies to be used in some sort of political way” after their deaths, ACT UP staged a march to the White House lawn, where they outflanked a group of guards and police and achieved their objective of dumping their loved ones’ ashes directly on the lawn as a protest of White House inaction on AIDS. The event was also motivated by the display that same week of the AIDS Memorial Quilt on the National Mall. In the video, march organizer David Robinson points out that the quilt is “very useful, it’s very important - but it’s very beautiful.” Hence the need for a reminder of everything that was not being done to combat AIDS, and the result of this inaction.

By the time of The Ashes Action, many half-hour, TV-formatted activist documentaries had been made by enterprising collectives and individuals, including such classics as Testing the Limits, Doctors, Liars, and Women, and Stop the Church. The Ashes Action stands as one of the very best. The pacing and editing are superb. The video channels the anger that motivated all of ACT UP’s actions, but is also suffused with an elegiac, even autumnal mood. (The election of Bill Clinton soon after this event was to signal the beginning of a decline in street activism.) Most remarkable of all is the repetitive way in which Wentzy shows the climactic moment of the march. This scene appears four different times in the video, and only gains in emotional power each time it is repeated. The footage itself is shot in a way that draws the viewer directly into the action and gets across the full mortality of what we are seeing on screen: when the ACT UP members fling the ashes out of boxes, urns, and plastic bags, through the fence and onto the lawn, we are seeing not only an audacious political protest – we are watching each of them say goodbye to their loved one, and it is devastating. A brief coda which employs agitprop-type on-screen statistics brings this powerful work to a close.



Film Love
curated by Andy Ditzler
The Film Love series provides access to great but rarely-screened films, and promotes awareness of the rich history of experimental and avant-garde filmmaking.


Rare footage of historic protest actions, 1961-2006
Friday, June 26, 2009 at the Museum of Design Atlanta


An evening of rare films and footage of historic protest actions, culled from archives and personal collections, presented in conjunction with the exhibition The Graphic Imperative

a Film Love event, curated by Andy Ditzler

Friday, June 26, 2009, 8:00 pm
at the Museum of Design Atlanta  

Film and video have played an important role in international protest movements, by documenting acts of resistance and sometimes becoming an integral part of the protests themselves. In conjunction with the Museum of Design Atlanta's exhibition The Graphic Imperative, Film Love presents an evening of rare films and videos on historic protest actions. Most of the selections come from private collections or archives, and are not available on commercial video.


Both formally daring and emotionally moving, James Wentzy's The Ashes Action is a neglected masterpiece of the prolific AIDS activist video movement. It documents a typically controversial ACT UP protest in which marchers outflanked police and reached the White House lawn, where they scattered the ashes of loved ones who had died of AIDS.

ARTPAPERS September/October 2009 p.47

Peaceably to Assemble: Protest Film and Video 1961-2006
Museum of Design, Atlanta June 26, 2009

More incendiary is James Wentzy's The Ashes Action, 1995, a film of the meticulously organized assaultive, emotionally intense ACT UP protests in Washington, DC, during the exhibition of the AIDS quilt, in which activists took a more dramatic tack, throwing their loved ones' ashes onto the White House Lawn. The film brings to mind both the carefully orchestrated drama and the radical techniques of Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, with its repeated action and the depiction of the same event from multiple angles.

The Museum of Design Atlanta
285 Peachtree Center Avenue, Marquis II Tower, Atlanta, Georgia 30303
Friday, June 26, 2009, 8:00 pm