Filmmaker Jeffrey Schwarz was afraid that a growing number of people had no idea who Vito Russo was.
But thanks to the acclaimed documentary Vito, which premieres tonight (23 July) on HBO, more people than ever will have a chance to learn about the man who authored The Celluloid Closet, the first book to critique Hollywood’s portrayals of gays on screen. He was a passionate advocate for justice and was at the forefront of the gay liberation movement and battle against AIDS for more than 20 years until his death in 1990.
‘I think he touched everyone in some way – even people he never met because we’re living his vision of the world,’ Schwarz said at the Outfest film festival in Los Angeles on Sunday.
The director began thinking about doing the documentary six years ago.
‘I started thinking about Vito and how fewer and fewer people knew who he was,’ Schwarz said. ‘I felt like his memory was standing to fade.’
There was no shortage of footage of the high-profile Russo who hosted a public access show Our Time in New York City during the AIDS crisis, emceed a contentious ACT UP rally where his friend Bette Midler performed, and Russo had also been interviewed extensively for the earlier documentary Common Threads: Stories From the Quilt.
Schwarz describes Russo’s life as an ‘epic saga’ which is ‘a way to tell the story of [the LGBT] community’ because Russo was at the forefront of every significant aspect of the gay civil rights movement.
‘I just became more and more impressed with him as time went on,’ Schwarz said. ‘This movie needed to be made.’