Here’s your weekly dose of an indie film in progress; every Friday, we spotlight a bigger project, usually from an established filmmaker or affiliated with a bigger production company.
“I Am Divine”
Director: Jeffrey Schwarz
Producers: Jeffrey Schwarz, Lotti Pharriss Knowles
For more information and to support this project: Visit the film’s IndieGoGo Page
In the middle of mixing his latest film, “Vito,” a documentary about Vito Russo, author of “The Celluloid Closet” (it premieres at NYFF later this month), Jeffrey Schwarz spoke to indieWIRE about his even more recent project. This one, for which he has shot the majority of the interviews and accrued most of the archival footage needed, centers on the life of Harris Glenn Milstead — better known to the world as Divine.
Divine was best known as the muse to the king of the cult filmmakers, John Waters, starring in some of his most important films: “Pink Flamingos,” “Female Trouble” and “Hairspray.” Schwarz’s film, “I Am Divine,” focuses on the actor’s whole life — from his early life in Baltimore to his meeting John Waters, near whom he lived in Maryland, through to his death one week after the theatrical premiere of “Hairspray” (the day he was to shoot an episode of “Married…with Children.”
“So far, we’ve shot over fifty interviews,” Schwarz told iW. “We started with Divine’s mom a couple of years back, then we went to John Waters and a lot of the Dreamlanders [a performance troupe Divine was a part of] people from Baltimore. We have an eclectic, amazing cast of interviewees so far.”
Schwarz has always been drawn to larger than life personalities; he’s also made films about porn star Jack Wrangler and master of the cinematic gimmick William Castle. “I’m interested in people that create alter egos or personae to project what they want into the world that normally they might not be able to. Divine was an overweight picked-on little gay kid in Baltimore. The incredible, ferocious Divine character was a response to that. Those are the kind of characters that I’m drawn to. A character like Divine can be inspirational to everyone. She takes what society is telling her is a deficit and making it an asset.
“The first thing I did was get in touch with John about doing a Divine documentary. He was second interview we did. He was really incredible. He opened up his Rolodex with everyone that we wanted to interview and told them they should do it. He gave me a quote to use for his fund-raising. He wants to see this movie get made too.”
The film features interviews with some lesser known faces, too. “Frances Milstead, Divine’s mom, was our first interview. She knew that her son was different. She was worried about him, but she loved him no matter what. The most interesting thing so far was this woman, Diana Evans, Divine’s high school girlfriend, who still carries a torch for him. She talks about him so sweetly. Divine took her to the prom. Divine used to do her makeup, her hair. It was a really wonderful sweet relationship. Diana was surprised when they were going to a costume party and Divine went to the party in full drag as Elizabeth Taylor. When Divine started hanging out with a new crowd, Diana felt left behind.”
And what’s next for the filmmaking team? “We have to raise some money to get a rough cut to festivals,” Schwarz said. “The goal is to go out on the fest circuit next summer. The people who have donated so far have been feeling that they’re giving back to Divine by helping to make this film for her…For a new generation who didn’t grow up with Divine and John Waters’ films, this is a great way to put Divine front and center in popular culture.”
Schwarz and his producing partner have been managing a Facebook campaign for the film that has (like the one for “Vito”) been cultivating heaps of enthusiasm.
Check out a teaser trailer from the film here:
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