The New Orleans Film Society screens two films in conjunction with NOLA Pride Week. Vito screens at 7 p.m. Monday at the CAC. Jeffrey Schwarz's documentary about writer and activist Vito Russo is a very well made piece examining three periods of Russo's life, two of which coincide with crucial phases of the gay rights movement.
Russo was born in New York and grew up in New Jersey. As soon as he turned 18, he moved back to the city and was a familiar face in the downtown gay community pre-Stonewall. It was a similar police raid on a another bar (resulting in the death of Diego Venales) that politicized him. The film covers the formation of the Gay Activist Alliance in the early 1970s, and there's entertaining footage of its confrontation with New York's city clerk over remarks disparaging the prospect of gay marriage. But Russo also thought the movement should be cultural, and the alliance created a community center that became a vibrant social space, hosting dances, film screenings and more.
Russo had always loved film and he showed movies at the center, which helped guide him to his career as a film writer. Russo spent years chronicling homosexual characters in early films (before 1933). The project became known as The Celluloid Closet, which Russo presented as a lecture with film clips and later published as a book. For anyone unfamiliar with that work, the documentary offers a good overview with great clips of monstrous and clownish gay stereotypes from early films. The final phase of the film deals with the spread of AIDS and the resurrection of gay activism, and again Russo was at the center of it, working with Larry Kramer to found Act Up. Russo was both very charismatic and, when he developed into a political leader, quite insightful and elegant as a speaker. The film includes interviews with everyone from Russo's very supportive family to activists, friends and writers he influenced, including Lily Tomlin and Armistead Maupin (Tales of the City). It offers a great look at the gay rights movement from a very personal but vital perspective.
Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same is a sci-fi spoof/romantic comedy. Bothered by troublesome emotions, a trio of aliens hears that Earth is the best place to lose all interest in romantic attachments, so they journey to New York City. It screens 7 p.m. Wednesday at the CAC.