Christopher Banks says the feature-length documentary Men Like Us helped him come to terms with his own emotions.
"I found it extraordinary finding similarities between a 24-year-old Maori and a 78-year-old white man who didn't come out until he was 40 and had a family.
"These common threads of emotion and difficulty aren't meant to be stories of misery. They're stories of overcoming struggles. In each story there is hope. For someone to see how they've survived and got through certain issues is a very empowering thing," Mr Banks says.
Men Like Us premiers at the Rialto in Newmarket tomorrow as part of the Film Talk series. It explores the lives of nine gay men aged from 24 to 78 and covers struggles with bereavement, bullying and HIV.
It is inspired by Mr Banks' own experiences of growing up gay in West Auckland and attending Liston College.
"I was very aware that gay men were at high risk for depression, mental illness and suicide. I wanted to look into the reasons why this was," he says.
Mr Banks suffers from bipolar disorder and says when he started talking about issues he faced with his gay friends many of them opened up and talked about things they had been afraid to voice.
Karl Moser, 46, features in the documentary. After finding out he was HIV positive in 2005 he wants to create awareness about the virus.
"It was a real emotional change and a psychological shock.
"It didn't affect my work but every other aspect of my life was altered. I stopped socialising. It took me about a year to come round," he says.
Growing up in Whangarei there weren't many visible gay people and Mr Moser says forming an identity was hard.
"I was worried that I would lose friends and family and as it turned out I was right to have that concern. Although many in my family are now OK with me, there was a reasonable period of time where they weren't and I lost many friends."
Mr Moser, who is in good health, hopes the documentary will help others realise there's nothing wrong with being gay.
Men Like Us was funded by the Mental Health Foundation as part of its work towards suicide prevention.
Mr Banks says it wasn't easy growing up gay because sexuality was not discussed at school.
"I thought I was the only one. It wasn't easy at all.
"The worst thing to be thought of at school was gay. It was very difficult for me to be labelled that," he says.
It wasn't until years later when he started to talk with other gay men that he realised others were going through the same things.
"I learned so much through doing this documentary. The various coping mechanisms and strategies that these guys had used to get through life was very inspiring.
"That's part of what drove me to finish the project."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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