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

By Indiewire | Indiewire March 4, 2013 at 9:27AM

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."
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Jeffrey Schwarz
Jeffrey Schwarz
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."
"I Am Divine"
"I Am Divine"
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.

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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.

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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.

This article is related to: SXSW Film Festival, Meet the 2013 SXSW Filmmakers, Jeffrey Schwarz