His fight against injustice serves as the inspiration for the documentary “Vito” directed by Jeffrey Schwarz. The film makes its Southeastern premiere on Wednesday, March 7, at 7:30 p.m. at the Midtown Art Cinema as a fundraiser for Out On Film’s 25th anniversary year.
Before his death in 1990, Vito Russo served as a gay activist, author and historian. Following Stonewall, he called out the media for its inaccurate representation of the LGBT community, and he critiqued Hollywood’s portrayal of gays on screen in his book “The Celluloid Closet.” Vito worked with the newly formed ACT UP during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and later became a founding member of GLAAD.
Jeffrey spoke with Fenuxe about his interest in the vocal gay advocate.
Fenuxe: Why do you think it was important to share Vito Russo’s story?
Jeffrey: Vito Russo, in my opinion, was one of the founding fathers of the gay liberation movement in that he saw the connection between the political and the cultural. Not a lot of people were talking about how gay people were represented in media and on film. Vito was one of the first to really bring the subject up in the early days of gay liberation.
Fenuxe: What piqued your interest to work on the documentary?
Jeffrey: I’ve been with this subject for a long time. When I was coming out one of the first things I did was read his book “The Celluloid Closet” and that really opened my eyes to a whole history of films I didn’t even know existed. It tied my love of film with my new identity. I ended up being able to work on the documentary version of “The Celluloid Closet” back in the early ’90s. I had an incredible experience working on that film and through that process got to know Vito even though he had just passed away. The filmmakers had all of Vito’s original research materials for the “Celluloid Closet,” and they had extensive interviews with him. I got to understand his place in the history of the gay movement. I had known about his position as a film historian and scholar but I didn’t know until working on the “Celluloid Closet” how important he was to the movement.
Fenuxe: What do you hope viewers will take away from this film?
Jeffrey: Vito was somebody who lived very bravely, very passionately, very honestly, and I think any audience regardless of orientation can relate to Vito’s struggle to be who he was and fight injustice. My main goal is to make sure Vito is not forgotten and to make sure he was put back in his proper place as one of the founding fathers of the movement. I’m also hoping people get to see this film to understand the previous generation’s struggle to create the world we live in today, which is a world where we can be openly gay.
Fenuxe: You’re also working on a documentary about Divine. How’s that film going?
Jeffrey: It’s called “I Am Divine,” and we finished shooting. We’re getting ready to go into editing. We have interviews with John Waters and many of the people Divine worked with in his films—his very close friends, his mother before she passed away. It’s in the works but we need help from the community to get it up on screen. You can make donations at http://divinemovie.com.