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Movies: Jeffrey Schwarz on 'Vito', Premiering Monday on HBO

Vito Russo and his lover Jeffrey Sevick, from the collection of Arnie Kantrowitz/HBO



Given the horrific tragedy in Colorado that's currently dominating movie news it's a good time to step up away from current releases for a moment and take a deep breath. Moviegoing has always been and will always be one of the great communal activities. We sit in the dark together and hear stories about our lives, whether they're dressed up in genre metaphors, superhero costumes, or fashioned to look as realistic as our own. If you've ever viewed the movie theater as a sanctuary or cherished the community that entertainment can create, you must tune in to VITO Monday night on HBO.  

JeffreyschwartzInfluential gay activist Vito Russo (July 11th, 1946- November 7th, 1990) was born into an Italian family in East Harlem and in an early scene in Vito he recounts his desire to be at the movies all the time. It was his escape from sports and not fitting in. He channeled this love of Hollywood and moviegoing and his own growing awareness of injustices towards gays and lesbians into a pioneering role as a film historian and gay activist. Vito wrote the hugely influential bestseller "The Celluloid Closet", which took on Hollywood's troubled relationship with gay representation and opened up a conversation that still rages to this day. He spent the final years of his life as an AIDS activist.

I sat down with Jeffrey Schwarz (pictured left), the director of this new HBO documentary, to talk about gay history, documentary portraits of iconic figures, and Vito's remarkable accomplishments.

Nathaniel Rogers: As a young gay film fanatic, I assume you felt a kinship with Vito?

Jeffrey Schwarz: He's always been a beacon for me. I was reading "The Celluloid Closet" as part of my own coming out process. Like a lot of people who read that book it really changed my life and set me on a path in a sense. When I found out that Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman were making a documentary based on Vito's book in San Francisco, I jumped at the chance to try and work on it. I ended up interning for them. My first job in this business was working on The Celluloid Closet (1995) as apprentice editor!

"Vito" the man and movie, Gay Icons, and Documentary Filmmaking AFTER THE JUMP...

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