V is for Vito (& Victory)
by Roberto Friedman
Welcome to all the LGBT citizens of the world who have made the pilgrimage here to our little Cowtown by the Bay to be with us for the big gay celebration coming our way this big gay weekend. We hope you have time in your visit to take in a gay show, see a gay film (there are over 200 screening in the LGBT film festival) or make some young gay thing feel appreciated. That's what we call stimulating the gay economy.
Director Jeffrey Schwarz made some heartfelt remarks from the Castro Theatre stage introducing his film Vito, about the late legendary gay activist, film scholar and charismatic leader Vito Russo, last Thursday night opening Frameline 36. During his remarks he gestured up to a seat that had been left empty in the otherwise full house, a center seat in the first row of the balcony that Russo had called his favorite seat in the house. Coincidentally, it was not far from where Out There was sitting, with friends and photographers Jim James, Rick Gerharter, Dan Nicoletta, and plucky Pepi . "See, don't we have pull?" we asked a seatmate. "Balcony, Row B!" But actually it's where we like to sit, too.
The film was powerful, moving, full of familiar faces from the film world and San Francisco, where Russo lived for a spell while caring for his dying partner Jeffrey Sevcik. It will serve to place Russo firmly in the pantheon of Founding Fathers & Mothers of Gay Liberation that seems to be on the verge of codifying these days (Milk, Hay , etc.) And when it gets a run on HBO beginning in July, a whole lot of people who may never have heard of Vito Russo will learn why his too-brief time on earth was so brilliantly spent. Russo was present at Stonewall and at the creation of the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA ), Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD ) and the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power (ACT UP). All that seminal activism, and he also produced a nonfiction masterpiece in The Celluloid Closet, at a time when there was no such thing as a classic textbook for a course on Gay Film. All these years later, it remains the go-to book in the field.
In the house on that memorable evening were the film's co-producers Lotti Pharriss Knowles and Philip Harrison, cinematographer David Quantic, and many of the "talking heads" seen onscreen, including Russo's brother Charlie Russo , author Armistead Maupin , activists Hal Offen , Tommi Avicolli Mecca and Nancy Stoller , film world luminaries Rob Epstein , Jeffrey Friedman , Michael Lumpkin and Jenni Olson , and Russo or Sevcik intimates Jim Fouratt and F. Allen Sawyer .
At the glamorous afterparty in the downtown Temple nightclub, we congratulated We Were Here filmmaker David Weissman, whose immensely moving AIDS-in-the-1980s documentary had just premiered on the Emmy Award-winning PBS series Independent Lens, hosted by Mary Louise Parker, that very night. Weissman had been interviewed by Spencer Michels for PBS' NewsHour earlier that evening, quite the best network news program for in-depth interviews. It's great news that millions of people will now find We Were Here on the air, the most powerful film proving our community's humanity we've probably ever seen.
The chill-out rooms downstairs at Temple, which is not a gay club but served rather nicely as the venue for quite a gay event, proved perfect for catching up with old friends and making new ones. OT got to meet San Francisco filmmaker Travis Mathews, whose sex feature I Want Your Love, expanded from a short of the same name in last year's Frameline, was one of the more anticipated offerings of this year's fest's first weekend. Coverage of Frameline 36 through its closing weekend continues in this issue.
The 3rd annual Queer Rebels of the Harlem Renaissance brings three nights of provocative performance to the 15th National Queer Arts Festival (June 28-30). The evening celebrates the legacy of the Harlem Renaissance, its explosion of talent, queer defiance, and artistic heritage that still influences our culture to this day. The event showcases 21 queer African artists offering original poetry, theater, film, burlesque, movement, and music, by, among others, international blues star Earl Thomas , filmmaker Alexis Pauline Gumbs , and writer/musician/filmmaker Kevin Simmonds. The show will run Thurs.-Sat., June 28-30, 8 p.m., at the African American Art and Culture Complex, 762 Fulton St., San Francisco. Tickets ($15-$25) are available at: www.brownpapertickets.com/event/246312.
Not the sharpest
This gay week in Arts & Culture, arts writer Tavo Amador considers the life and career of playwright, librettist, novelist, theatre director and author Arthur Laurents, surely one of the great gay immortals (is anyone keeping a list?). So here's a value-added anecdote! While rehearsing the landmark musical Gypsy, Laurents concluded that star Ethel Merman was not overly intelligent, but that she was quite shrewd and very literal. It seems that Merman had asked co-star Jack Klugman if matinee idol Tab Hunter were gay. Klugman replied, "Is the Pope Catholic?" "Yes," said Merman, still waiting for the answer about Hunter.