Interview with Jeffrey Schwarz, director of “I Am Divine,” by Earle Dutton
“I Am Divine” opens the 18th year of the Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Fest. Award winning director of “Vito,” Jeffrey Scwharz returns to Seattle with this new triumph. Amazing, disturbing, fun, inspiring, emotional and hilarious are just a few words to describe this tribute to Divine.
The film documents the life and adventures of Harris Glenn Milstead on his voyage to become the one and only Divine. Yes, he wears too much eye makeup, eats white sugar and animal feces but he stole our hearts and our breath with his talent and antics on stage and screen. Don’t miss this brilliant documentary. Opening night of SLGFF at Cinerama, October 10th click here for more info.
Jeffrey Schwarz had a few moments for questions about the film, himself and upcoming projects.
How do you pick the subjects/people for your work?
I make films to celebrate iconic, larger than life individuals with a great story to tell. The people I choose to make documentaries about created a finely tuned persona to cover up any insecurities they may have had. People like horror movie maestro William Castle, 70s porn icon Jack Wrangler, and of course Divine fit into that category. I fall in love with these people and want to illustrate their journeys on film and take an audience for a ride.
When did you meet Divine? What was your first impression?
Sadly I never got to meet Divine, who died in 1988. Since I was a teenager I’ve worshiped at the altar of Divine and of John Waters. Anyone who feels like an outsider growing up can certainly relate to the world that they created and they way they lived their lives. I had read about “Pink Flamingos” years before actually seeing it, in John Waters’ book, “Shock Value.” At the time I had no tangible connections to gay culture, so John and Divine’s sensibility certainly helped lead me down a creative path. And then finally seeing Divine in those movies was just mind blowing. I’d never seen anything like it and watching him on screen was thrilling. He was so fully committed to the characters he played, and the way he lived his life not caring what anyone thought about him was certainly inspiring.
What were the biggest challenges of making this film?
Certainly the fundraising. Our producer Lotti Pharriss Knowles spearheaded an on-line fundraising drive so the entire film was funded by Divine’s fans around the world. We spent two years cultivating a lively community on Facebook, and now we have over 20,000 fans. We used Indie-Go-Go and Kickstarter and provided with some unusual incentives. We wanted the fans to feel they had a stake in making sure the film got finished. The campaign was a way for people to give back to Divine, and feel personally connected to something special.
What was your favorite part of the film?
There were so many, but going to Baltimore and getting to meet and interview so many of the original Dreamland crew was such a treat. There is a lot of history under the bridge with these folks, and they’ve been through so much together. Making movies, loving each other, fighting with each other, sleeping with each other. We should all be so lucky to have friends and creative partners like they do. But going to the alley where Divine ate dog shit was a religious experience. Everyone should go to that alley and pay homage.
How long did it take you to gather all of the segments and interviews?
From the first phone call to John Waters to get his blessing to today is almost six years. Anyone who wants to make a documentary should be in it for the long haul.
Why did you label the credits at the end with Shitkickers, Perverts, etc? How did you choose the people to include in each list?
Those were the various levels of giving for our Kickstarter campaign. They are all references to John Waters movies. I love watching the end credits with an audience and hear people scream when they see their name.
What are you working on next?
My next project is called “Tab Hunter Confidential.” It’s 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. He was gay of course and the movie is about the tension between being presented as the boy next door and every girl’s dream date, but in reality keeping a very big secret. I met him when we interviewed him for “I Am Divine” about co-starring in John Waters’ “Polyester.”
We love Jeffrey Schwarz!