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TCM Celebrates Pride With a Night of True LGBTQ+ Stories

The Times of Harvey Milk

The cable channel will show The Times of Harvey Milk, The Celluloid Closet, and more, with commentary from filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman.

Pride Month is all about living in your truth, and Turner Classic Movies is, appropriately, honoring Pride with an evening of compelling true LGBTQ+ stories.

The cable channel has had special programming for Pride Month in previous years, but this year marks the first time it's had a block of LGTBQ+ documentaries -- several of them from Oscar-winning filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, who will host the block Monday along with TCM's Dave Karger.

"We're thrilled that they're doing it, and we're thrilled to be part of it," says Friedman, who founded San Francisco-based production company Telling Pictures with Epstein in 1987.

Karger Friedman Epstein

From left: Dave Karger, Jeffrey Friedman, and Rob Epstein

Karger, who has hosted Pride programming for TCM previously, notes that when he found out this year's focus would be on documentaries, he thought, "If we're going to find a cohost, it needs to be Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman." Their analysis is always accessible and informative, he says.

The films include three TCM premieres, all from Epstein and Friedman. Common Threads: Stories From the Quilt (1989), the first film they directed and produced together, chronicles the lives of several people who died of AIDS complications and are remembered with panels in the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. It won the Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary. It will be shown at 8 p.m. (all times Eastern; check your local listings).

AIDS Memorial Quilt

The AIDS Memorial Quilt on the National Mall.

The Celluloid Closet (1995), based on the groundbreaking book by Vito Russo, looks at a century of queer images (often coded) in Hollywood movies. Narrated by Lily Tomlin, it includes interviews with Tom Hanks, Whoopi Goldberg, Susan Sarandon, Shirley MacLaine, Tony Curtis, Gore Vidal, Paul Rudnick, and numerous others, along with many delicious and sometimes infuriating clips showing how the studios depicted LGBTQ+ characters. It's on at 9:30 p.m.

Al Pacino in Cruising

Cruising, starring Al Pacino, is among the films analyzed in The Celluloid Closet.

Paragraph 175, from 2000, is the team's examination of the Nazi persecution of LGBTQ+ people, especially gay men, and how it was enabled by that particular paragraph of the German penal code, prohibiting homosexuality. Historian Klaus Muller interviews survivors, and Rupert Everett narrates. It's probably the least known of the pair's films, says Epstein, and this will be its first TV showing since it premiered on HBO 21 years ago. It airs at 11:30 p.m.

Paragraph 175 poster

Other films on the schedule have been on TCM previously but are nonetheless notable. The Times of Harvey Milk (1984) chronicles the life and death of the pioneering gay San Francisco politician; Epstein produced and directed it before he joined forces with Friedman, and it brought him his first Oscar. It airs at 1:15 a.m. Tuesday.

The Times of Harvey Milk poster

Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives (1977), from director Peter Adair, features interviews with 26 gay men and lesbians assembled over a five-year period. When it aired on PBS a year after its theatrical release, Adair received thousands of letters from LGBTQ+ people who'd never seen queer stories told by those who lived them. It screens at 3 a.m.

Word Is Out poster

Before Stonewall, from 1985, captures LGBTQ+ life before that watershed event. Those who talk about their experiences include historian Martin Duberman, poets Allen Ginsberg and Audre Lorde, activists Barbara Gittings and Frank Kameny, author Ann Bannon, and many others. It's directed by Greta Schiller and Robert Rosenberg, and narrated by Rita Mae Brown. It wraps up the block at 5:15 a.m.

Before Stonewall poster

Before Stonewall chronicles early protests and more.

Epstein, Friedman, and Karger hope the documentaries will both entertain and enlighten viewers. "I just hope that people will come to understand more of our history," Friedman says. "Our collective memories are becoming shorter and shorter."

Karger, who is gay, says hosting the Pride programming "is without a doubt one of my favorite things I've gotten to do as a TCM host." The channel "absolutely" offers a friendly working environment for LGBTQ+ people, he says. "All of us who work there are really like-minded when it comes to inclusivity, diversity, and rooting for the underdog," Karger notes.

Narrative films aren't being neglected in TCM's Pride observance. Preceding the documentary block will be a day of films starring gay and bisexual actors, including Montgomery Clift, Roddy McDowall, Dirk Bogarde, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Farley Granger, Van Johnson, and Marlon Brando. The women got their due earlier this month. (See for the full schedule.)

In addition to hosting Pride programming, Karger introduces and provides commentary on a variety of films on TCM, often sharing insights on coded queer content. Epstein and Friedman are busy with numerous projects. Not all their films are on LGBTQ+ subjects, but they recognize the importance of telling the community's stories. Their 2019 releases were State of Pride, looking at Pride celebrations in Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Tuscaloosa, Ala., and the acclaimed Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice, about the straight (but queer-beloved) music icon. They're working on Cuba, about young Cuban music students, not specifically LGBTQ+ in focus, and planning a documentary on the late gay photographer Peter Hujar, a gifted contemporary of the better-known Robert Mapplethorpe.

"There's always a need," Friedman says, "for more honest, complex portrayals of our lives."

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