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How the Archives Inspired a Director: “Joyful Times Despite the Oppression”

Stu Maddux, Director of 'Reel in the Closet'
Stu Maddux, Director of ‘Reel in the Closet’

“The idea for Reel In The Closet came from reading the GLBT Historical Society newsletter,” says filmmaker Stu Maddux, whose feature-length film is currently touring the festival circuit, aiming for a wider release in 2016. The documentary showcases private home movies of nightlife, picnics, house parties, and tender moments in the pre-Stonewall era. Much of the newly unearthed footage is from the archives of the GLBT Historical Society.

What sparked the film? “It was an article about GLBTHS volunteer John Raines, who was digitally transferring and preserving hundreds of reels of videotape at the archives before they became unplayable,” Maddux recalls. “As I began looking at the body of moving images that was already transferred, I was struck with a feeling pride I had never felt before.
“I was seeing people like me in the 1950s, ’40s and even ’30s carve out joyful times despite the oppression they faced. These were happy people documenting their lives. That’s when I knew that it was important to create a documentary not simply using the moving images at the archives, but to make it about the hope they make you feel and the urgency to save them before they are lost forever.”
The film also covers the upheaval of gay liberation. “The home movies by photographer Crawford Barton are fascinating. He documented his migration from rural Georgia to San Francisco in the 1970s with images that echo the experience of many LGBT people, capturing along his journey many early, historic LGBTs events. While filming the 1972 Gay Freedom Day Parade in New York, he caught several people who would later become important to queer history.
“For months I was particularly struck by a woman holding a hand made sign that reads, ‘Parents of Lesbian’s and Gays Unite.’ I was able to confirm that it is Jeanne Manford, who founded PFLAG. These are the only known moving images of her marching for the first time. And Barton captured it all with the artistic eye he later became known for.”
And how is the film being received? “The most heartening reactions to Reel in the Closet come from people starting out who have never seen personal moving images of LGBT people from the pre-Stonewall period. I had a college student tell me that she finally had something to show to her parents to prove them wrong. They had convinced her growing up that being gay started with Stonewall!”
For trailers and screening dates for Reel in the Closet, visit www.closetreel.com — or request a temporary link to view the film online from Maddux by emailing moc.x1516102018uddam1516102018uts@u1516102018ts1516102018.