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Movie Lovers We Love: Kristin Pepe Helps Save Queer History with the Legacy Project

Photo of Bryce J. Renninger By Bryce J. Renninger | Indiewire November 2, 2012 at 9:25AM

When Hitler took over Germany in the 1930's, not only was Jewish culture virtually obliterated, so too was the country's robust homosexual and transgender literature and culture. The Nazis famously destroyed the extensive archive of the sexologist Mangus Hirschfeld. As part of that purge, all copies of Richard Oswald's film, "Different from the Others" (co-wrote with Hirschfeld), were also burned.
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Kristin Pepe
Kristin Pepe

When Hitler took over Germany in the 1930's, not only was Jewish culture virtually obliterated, so too was the country's robust homosexual and transgender literature and culture. The Nazis famously destroyed the extensive archive of the sexologist Mangus Hirschfeld. As part of that purge, all copies of Richard Oswald's film, "Different from the Others" (co-wrote with Hirschfeld), were also burned.

With the Legacy Project, a joint venture for LGBTQ film and video preservation co-run by Outfest (LA's LGBT Film Festival) and the UCLA Film and Television Archives, the Project's Manager Kristin Pepe (who goes by KP) is working with people from all over the world to create a new print of the classic German film, thought by many to be the first feature-length gay film. [They're also raising $5,000 -- a portion of the funds (around $100,000) needed to complete the print -- on Kickstarter.]

With preservationist Jere Guldin at UCLA, UCLA film historian J. Christopher Horak and the Munich-based historian Stefan Drössler, among others, Pepe is on an adventure to recreate an experience as close as possible to watching the whole film.

"Hirschfeld made a shorter version of the film to include in a film called 'Innocently Persecuted'," Pepe explained, "And that film was in Russia.  At the time that everything else was getting destroyed, it would have been destroyed had it not been in Russia. So in order for that 45 minutes to reflect the full original movie, we're creating bridge titles to reflect the original intention."

Reflecting on the Legacy Project's cut of the film, which was shown as an unfinished sneak preview in a recent Legacy Project fundraiser event, Pepe said, "I was surprised at how much the people at the Orpheum loved it. They were so happy to see a film from 1919 about gay people."

"Different from the Others"
"Different from the Others"

Pepe, who also teaches film at a private K-12 school in Los Angeles, is also excited to put together a curriculum guide to include "Different from the Others" in schools. "In California," Pepe told Indiewire, "it's now mandatory for children to learn about gay history, so we're setting up a curriculum to address Hirschfeld and Jewish civil rights with this film."

"Different from the Others" is far from the only project at the Legacy Project. While Pepe was enticed to the job after seeing the Project's work on "Parting Glances" with Steve Buscemi, she's helped the collection grow from 4,000 pieces of film and video to 20,000 in her five years with the organization.

When asked to reflect on what the most fulfilling work she's done so far has been, Pepe told Indiewire that restoring the experimental work of Tom Chomont, who was able to see nine of his films restored through a grant from the National Film Preservation Board before he died, was the most impactful. "There were all kinds of things in his work. Little poetic beautiful films about love -- and some harder edge S&M stuff. I fell in love with him as a person. It felt nice to be able to do somehting while he was still alive." 

A still from the footage from Mona's Candelight (1950).
A still from the footage from Mona's Candelight (1950).

Also of note for Pepe was a recent restoration of a film found by another archivist at a yard sale that documented the famous drag king Miss Jimmy Reynard at the San Francisco gay bar Mona's Candlelight. The Project is currently working on restoring films taken of Harvey Milk's campaign.

"The most important thing we can do is keep these films and video in the right humidity and climate," Pepe explained.  To that end, Rob Epstein donated enough content from the footage to his films ("The Times of Harvey Milk," "Common Threads," "The Celluloid Closet") to make the document listing the contents of the collection 86 pages. "Vito" director Jeffrey Schwarz also donated thirteen episodes of Vito Russo's public access show to the archives. The Mona's Candlelight and Milk footage were all donated by people who owned the film, and the Legacy Project is eager to help find a safe home for any piece of LGBT history caught on film or video. 

Favorite Film:  "I like all kinds of movies especially experimental films.  As a teacher and programmer, I love sharing my favorite movies with people. This month I showed my 7th and 8th graders 'Children of Heaven' and 'Martin Arnold.' During 'Arnold,' they burst out making up a kind of song slapping the desk in rhythm to his piece. It was a really cool moment. On the other hand, I equally loved sharing the 70s gay hardcore porn 'L.A. Plays Itself' and Marie Losier's 'The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye' to my Platinum audience." [Another hat that Pepe has worn for the past two years is that of Programmer for Outfest's experimental program, Platinum]

Favorite Director in the Archive:  "I love the Pat Rocco Collection that has hundreds of movies, interviews, and documentation of the gay civil rights struggle in Los Angeles during the 1960s and 1970s. He also made soft erotica for men that is campy and fun."

Favorite Queer Film:  Tom Chomont's body of work.

The Piece of Film or Video You Wished Would Turn Itself Up to You for the Archives:  More home movies of LGBT people before 1960

The Kickstarter video for The Legacy Project's "Different from the Others" campaign:

This article is related to: Outfest, Queer Cinema, Movie Lovers We Love





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