Oftentimes, you don’t know where your documentary will take you. For Jean Carlomusto, making her feature directing debut with “Larry Kramer in Love & Anger,” that lesson was unavoidable: things took an abrupt turn when her subject turned ill. The film goes into the mind, the temperament and the will of the “Normal Heart” scribe, a man best known for his fiery and confrontational personality. Carlomusto found a way to move beyond that perception, as his illness and battle for life revealed his innate, profound sweetness and timidity. The result? A full, intimate portrait of a legendary activist.
What’s your film about in 140 characters or less?
“Larry Kramer in Love &
Anger” is an intimate look at the life and work of the playwright, author and
LGBT activist Larry Kramer, whose foresight and passion inspired a generation
to fight for their lives.
Now what’s it REALLY about?
It’s a warts-and-all
portrait of a fiery gay activist who is gravely ill, vulnerable and fighting
for his life in a hospital bed.
Tell us briefly about yourself.
I have been making films
since high school. I graduated from film school in 1981, right at the start of
what would become the AIDS pandemic. I became passionately involved in AIDS
activism, creating and collaborating on numerous documentaries about the
movement. Yet my work isn’t solely about HIV/AIDS. My other documentaries are
complex, unorthodox investigations into subjects often left to the periphery of
Biggest challenge in completing this film?
During the making of this
documentary, Kramer became gravely ill. I saw him struggle valiantly with his
health and come back from the edge of death several times. He was fighting for
his life. He never gave up, and neither did his husband, David Webster. David
not only allowed me to shoot with Larry in the hospital, he encouraged it. So
as to minimize any disturbance to Larry and the hospital staff, I would visit
him alone with my camera. Sometimes Larry was so sick that shooting was
difficult, or impossible. He needed my care instead. You get a sense of this in
the first scene of the film when I’m feeding him and putting another blanket on
him. During these visits, I was to learn that for all of Larry’s fury, he is
also a very shy and sweet man.
What do you want Sundance audiences to take away from your film?
I want people to think about
the possibilities they as individuals have to change the world. I want them to
see the importance of standing up and fighting tooth and nail for what they
Any films inspire you?
Herzog’s “Grizzly Man.” The
moment when Herzog puts on the headphones and listens to the death tape is a
horrifying yet brilliant glimpse of what the mind brings to the image. As I was
making this documentary, I watched Margarethe von Trotta’s “Hannah Arendt.” It
was a perceptive portrait of another political firebrand who angered many of
her colleagues with her writing and lectures. Yet, she had the courage and
conviction to stand up for what she believed in. Barbara Sukowa imbues Hannah
Arendt with a steely passion that reminds me of Larry. And “The Life and Times
of Harvey Milk” is a classic that’s as powerful today as it was then.
The premiere of the film on
HBO in June. I’m also in preproduction for a documentary about another radical
activist, a female whose life was altered by a controversial and tragic event.
What cameras did you shoot on?
Due to the substantial
amount of archival footage that came from multiple sources, much of it from my
fellow AIDS video activists, this film is an encyclopedia of desktop video
cameras – Hi8, Umatic, VHS, MiniDV. For the contemporary interviews, most
everything was shoot with a Sony FS700.
Did you crowdfund?
For the first three years of
the project, Cresting Moon Productions (my production company) financed the
project while I focused on grant proposals and scratched around for funding. I
was gearing up for a Kickstarter Campaign when the doors opened up at HBO.
Indiewire invited Sundance 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 2015 festival. For profiles go HERE.