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Polishing up some
old screen gems

Polishing up some
old screen gems


Until the Outfest Legacy Project came around, pioneering gay films like Parting Glances were falling into disrepair, unable to be issued on DVD or even properly screened. But now they're being restored to former glory--and getting a new lease on life.

Film has been a crucial component of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender struggle for visibility and equality. From Making Love to Desert Hearts to Paris Is Burning to Boys Don't Cry to Brokeback Mountain, film images in the decades since Stonewall have helped make what's "invisible" about us visible. So many of us have been personally shaped, even saved, by films that spoke directly to our experiences of living unspoken lives--of discovering our true selves or demanding our rightful place at the table of humanity.

There is a saying that memory is a monument harder than stone. At the dawn of the 21st century LGBT people continue to have few actual monuments--so little mainstream acknowledgement of our struggles and our contributions. But the task and responsibility remain before us: Build the monuments ourselves by telling our own stories and passing them on. Yes, we've done an amazing job over the last three decades of telling those stories in film, but very, very few of them are being properly taken care of, and they've begun to disappear. Almost none of the major LGBT films of 1970s, '80s, and '90s have been preserved.

As a result, the state of independent queer film preservation is in crisis.

The film elements that make possible everything from revival screenings to commercial DVDs are lost, in disrepair, and in some cases have already substantially deteriorated. Whenever Outfest--the Los Angeles LGBT film festival, which I'm the executive director of--programs a revival screening, we inevitably brace ourselves to receive a print on its very last legs. It's usually one of the original prints struck 10 or 20 years ago, never replaced because there's no real money to be made from a new print, the elements are lost, or the filmmaker has died.

So Outfest decided two years ago to not be complicit in the erasure of our own heritage. The Outfest Legacy Project for LGBT Film Preservation, a partnership with the UCLA Film and Television Archive, has established the largest publicly accessible collection of LGBT films in the world. Our collection already includes over 5,300 titles (more than 250,000 minutes of moving images) and features scores of archive-quality 35-millimeter film prints, from Claire of the Moon to Edge of Seventeen to Wild Reeds, as well as access copies of older films, many that don't exist anywhere else.

And the Outfest Legacy Project recently entered the most expensive and time-consuming area of film preservation: restoration--actually undoing the damage and bringing some of our most threatened films back to life. Our inaugural restoration project is Parting Glances, a beloved 1986 indie classic that launched the careers of Steve Buscemi and Kathy Kinney. The restored film premiered Monday, July 16, at Outfest.

Stephen Gutwillig, Kathey Kinney, Steve Buscemi

I was 21 years old when Parting Glances came out. I saw it at the Orson Welles Cinema in Cambridge, Mass., and it changed my life. This intimate, funny gem remains one of the best portraits of love and friendship among gay men--and one of the best films about AIDS--ever made. As a gay man and a film lover, it crystallized for me what was possible--how good the movies about our lives deserved to be.

Bill Sherwood wrote and directed Parting Glances. It was his only film. He died of AIDS complications a few years after its release, and today there isn't a single viable print of the film archived anywhere--the prints that do exist are now themselves 20 years old, and look like it. The commercial tapes and DVDs of the film were struck from unrestored film elements. After tracking down the rights holder, obtaining his consent, and locating the original elements, we raised $88,000 to complete a full restoration of the film, and with it a piece of the LGBT community's soul.

Our next restoration is Word Is Out: Stories From Some of Our Lives from 1977, the first feature-length documentary by gays and lesbians about their lives. But as you can imagine, there is much, much more we need to do.

The Outfest Legacy Project collection recently formed a partnership with the extraordinary One National Gay and Lesbian Archives. We are in the process of accessioning some of One's rarest and most fragile moving images. These include one-of-a-kind tapes of artists like Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, plus civil rights pioneers Evelyn Hooker, Morris Kite, and Harry Hay. We stand on their shoulders today, but much of this recorded history is terribly threatened and could be lost to future generations of LGBT people seeking a record of their cultural history.

Like a lot of you, I hear about these images and am desperate to see them. As a gay man I'm desperate to know my history, to connect with my ancestors. And I'm furious at having been denied these images as well as whatever else may be out there deteriorating. I'm determined to have this void filled--whether it was caused by benign neglect or homophobic censorship. This blackout must end.

Memory is a monument harder than stone, and the Outfest Legacy Project is building a living, moving monument of memory. Most of us in the LGBT community realize that this work, this righteous act of cultural reclamation, is something we have to do for ourselves. The uncertain, often virulent national political climate aside, this is our cause, the least we can do for the brave artists who told our stories and changed the world. Far from a burden, it is a joyous undertaking to lovingly tend to and rediscover our creative legacy. They are the films that told us who we are, where we come from, and why we love the way we do. We invite you to join us as we bring them back to life--as we bring them home.

Gutwillig is the executive director of Outfest. For more info on the Outfest Legacy Project, visit

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Stephen Gutwillig