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Meet the 2013 SXSW Filmmakers #21: Jeffrey Schwarz Captures Shock Value and Beauty in ‘I am Divine’

Meet the 2013 SXSW Filmmakers #21: Jeffrey Schwarz Captures Shock Value and Beauty in 'I am Divine'

Jeffrey Schwarz’s is a very busy man. “I am Divine” is his fourth feature documentary in five years. This past summer his last film “Vito” aired on HBO. It was about the
beloved gay activist and film scholar Vito Russo, and it comes out on
DVD this April. His other films are “Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story,” about the prolific Hollywood director who specialized in audience
participation gimmicks and “Wrangler: Anatomy Of an Icon,” about a
1970s gay porn star who transitioned to straight films and married
Margaret Whiting. He has spent the better part of this century making
“behind-the-scenes” documentaries and DVD extras stating he’s “the guy
responsible for all those featurettes, audio commentaries, and other
“added value” as the studios like to call it.”

What it’s about: “I Am Divine” is the story of how an overweight, effeminate,
bullied Baltimore kid transformed himself into an internationally
recognized drag superstar. He became known around the world for his
leading roles in films by John Waters, his appearances on the stage, his
recording career, and touring with a disco act. Divine is an
inspiration to misfits, outsiders, rebels, and freaks of all kinds.”

What makes this story compelling : “Divine took everyone that people told him was bad or wrong about himself
and threw it back in their faces. All the screwed up notions our
culture has about body image and beauty – he turned everything upside
down. The fact that he was overweight and a man didn’t stop him from
becoming the Most Beautiful Woman int he World. He gives courage to
anyone who’s ever been mocked, ridiculed, and ostracized, and gives us
all hope that anything’s possible.

What he hopes audiences will walk away with: “Divine never considered himself a drag queen. He was an actor
who played female parts – and those are always the best roles anyway! He
was a fantastic performer, a great actor, and a warm, generous person
who couldn’t have been more different from the roles he played. I want
people get to know the man behind the glamor, a sweet soft spoken guy
with so much love in his heart. And he was also kind of nuts too. I
especially want kids who didn’t grow up with him to get to know this
amazing character and I’m hoping this will help secure Divine’s legacy
for the future.”

On films that inspired him: “In a way, the trajectory of Divine’s life is a lot like a John Waters
film so we were certainly inspired by his work. The tone we took was
playful, irreverent, colorful and raunchy. The subject matter allowed us
to just have fun and take the audience for a rollicking ride. We were
also inspired by the color palate and garish approach that John’s
production designer Vincent Peranio used for our graphic design by Grant
Nellessen. Our score by Michael “The Millionaire” Cudahy was inspired
by some of John’s music choices in his films.

What’s next: “My next project is “Tab Hunter Confidential”, the story of matinée idol
Tab Hunter and how he went from being a teenage stable boy to one of the
biggest Hollywood stars of the 1950s, all the while keeping a very big
secret. We have started production and if fundraising goes well, hope to
finish shooting and start editing before the end of the year.

Indiewire
invited SXSW Film Festival directors to tell us about their films,
including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re
doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2013
festival.

Keep checking HERE every day up to the launch of the festival on March 8 for the latest profiles.

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