Documentary seeks help to preserve a piece of LGBT history

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Everyone remembers the impact of AIDS on the LGBT community; what not so many people remember is the impact made on AIDS, by the decade of annual galas put on by Hollywood and the fashion industry. Afonso Salcedo’s documentary, There Was Magic, is aiming to keep the memory of those benefits alive”•if his Kickstarter campaign can raise the funds.

Video below.

Though awareness of AIDS was not a problem in the early years, support and information was not as widespread as fear. Originally known as “gay-related immune deficiency,” or even the “gay plague,” those with HIV/AIDS in its early days were shunned; in addition to lack of help for the afflicted, hardly any federal funds were being allocated to determine causes, treatments, or cures.

By the mid-1980s, the number of people infected was only growing worse every year, and both the fashion and movie industries had been hit especially hard. Something had to be done; given that both were a very large part of the media, and therefore peoples’ lives, it only made sense for the industries to team up, speak out, and push for change.

To that end, every year from 1987 – 1996, Hollywood and the fashion industry put on “The California Fashion Industry Friends of People Living with HIV/AIDS” gala, held in Los Angeles. It was a huge turning point for both the fight against HIV/AIDS, and for the LGBT community in general.

Salcedo feels it’s a story that needs to be told, and he has the qualifications to do so. As the founder of Sutro Studios, he has also worked for some of the biggest animation studios in the world, including Pixar Animation Studios and DreamWorks. In addition to his contributions to award-winning films such as Ratatouille, Wall-E, Up and Toy Story 3, he is both the creator and co-director of the short film “It Gets Better”… Love, Pixar.

To learn more about his vision, 429Magazine got an exclusive interview with Salcedo.

429Magazine: On Kickstarter, you said you were inspired by the book Heavenly Bodies: Remembering Hollywood and Fashion’s Favorite AIDS Benefit. Has anything else been done to commemorate the fundraisers?

Afonso Salcedo: This is the first time these events would be commemorated, since the book was released. There’s a lot of photos, footage, and stories that have never been shared before or even told. The book, by Michael Anketell who created the events, is incredibly well written and a great record of all these little moments that made these events so unique at the time.

Not only on how hard it was to even come to organize them at a time when nothing was being done, with such a small group of volunteers, but also how much heartfelt emotion and significance they had in the hearts and minds of everyone who was being affected by HIV/AIDS.

The fashion and Hollywood communities were being hugely impacted by the virus, and you can really feel that through the stories that were told, the shows that were organized, the people that attended the events, and the volunteers that made it all possible.

429Mag: For those who want to see what the original fuss was all about, is it possible to find old video of the shows? Were any of them released on VHS, or more recently on DVD?

Salcedo: The events were covered by major news and media outlets… MTV’s “House of Style” for example covered several of the events and some of the footage can be found in their archives online. But the vast majority of the footage has never been released before, and is not available on VHS or DVD. This film will be the first of its kind.

429Mag: At the actual shows, was it only fashion and Hollywood stars that got the spotlight, or did activists also take part?

Salcedo: Since these were fashion shows in Los Angeles, Hollywood and fashion personalities were a huge part of it of course, but it attracted a lot of other people, including Nancy Reagan, for example. Mayor Bradley of LA attended as well, lots of City Council people and more. The true heroes of the events were the volunteers who gave night and day to organize and pull together all these people, and make it all possible. And of course, the celebrities, the personalities and the people just propelled the cause even further and ended up becoming heroes themselves.

429Mag: Who have you interviewed for this project?

Salcedo: I’ve already filmed Barry Krost, who was the producer for “What’s Love Got To Do With It” and whose clients included Elizabeth Montgomery and Jackie Collins, amongst many others.

James Watterson, who was a senior V.P. at Robinsons May/May Department Stores and one of the original members of the steering committee for the events.

I also filmed Mary Kay Stolz, who worked on “Great Balls of Fire” and is Creative Director at the Fashion Institute of Design and Marketing in Los Angeles, and of course, Michael Anketell who was the founder and creator of these benefit galas.

We’ve already heard from several other people who are interested, and confirmed they wanted to be filmed for the movie, but at this point in time we’re not ready to announce anyone specific.

429Mag: What is the narrative you’re reaching for? 

Salcedo: The story I want to tell is the actual story that happened, all the little and big struggles that volunteers were going through to make this all possible, to bring attention and raise money for the cause, and help all those people that were trying to get the care, support and medical attention they needed to have as much of a normal life as possible. 

And of course make it relevant to this day and age, where medications extend life, and when so many people of younger generations forget what everyone else went through. It’s part of our history, and it should be remembered and taught. HIV/AIDS still has no cure, even though hopefully we will be getting there soon.

429Mag: Besides the obvious first and last, will there be any special focus on certain shows over others?

Salcedo: That is something that currently is still in the process of molding itself. Working on documentaries is very different than creating a narrative film, where the whole thread of story and flow is already well defined (in most cases) at the beginning of production.

I believe you should always leave some open space throughout the production of a documentary to let it breathe, to let it find the right path, the strongest story and the best emotion that translates what happened during that time. Magic happens when you allow these things to occur.

So I wouldn’t be able to specifically pin-point events that would garner more attention, but from the interviews I already conducted, there are definite highlights like the Mizrahi experience at the Chinese Theater in LA, the Versace show, the Thierry Mugler creativity, and of course the unforgettable Hollywood Bowl with the Calvin Klein retrospective and Tina Turner performance.

There are so many incredible stories, and I am really looking forward to getting the most human, and the most inspiring out of them while bringing something unique and unforgettable from all the benefit events.

429Mag: Ten years is a good run, but why didn’t the shows go on after 1996?

Salcedo: The shows raised money for AIDS Project Los Angeles. Like any film, there is not enough space to talk about everything, and my goal is to really show the beauty of how a community can pull itself together in a time of crisis and need.

The film is not about a particular person, but instead a small group of friends who banded together to raise money to provide services for people living with HIV/AIDS. It’s the story of what was happening at the time, and how it was affecting everyone in the country.

The story is about hope and how ten incredible events not only raised millions of dollars for people living with the disease”•but it also raised awareness throughout the world.

429Mag: How much of a pro-LGBT message was there in the shows?

Salcedo: It was the LGBT community that supported the events”•the designers, the make-up artists, the hair stylists, the floral designers, the caterers, many of the models, the dressers, etc. all donated their time, services and amazing talent. Michael, and the other volunteers, couldn’t have done it without the LGBT community. The ‘original’ steering committee which was made up of seven people”•FIVE of the seven were gay.

429Mag: What did it mean for the both the LGBT community and AIDS patients to have mainstream celebrities speaking to a mainstream audience in support of them?

Salcedo: It made the disease less frightening, it created goodwill and inclusion for gay, straight, lesbian, transgender”•for ALL people. Having celebrities take part (especially in the beginning) made the events newsworthy”•but in a good and hopeful light. Not the horrible stories that were being told in the mainstream press. This was a new spin on the disease”•that it was a VIRUS and that anyone could be infected. And that Hollywood and the fashion industry cared.

429Mag: Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Salcedo: I feel this movie really brings an important story that needs to be told. It’s not just about the AIDS epidemic, nor just about fashion, but it is of huge historical significance because it is so unique in its scope: Hollywood and fashion were being hugely impacted by AIDS, and a small group of people that were tired of seeing their friends get sick or die, decided to all get together one night a year and celebrate life, beauty and raise money and hope for all those around them. I couldn’t be more excited about this story and I can’t wait to bring it to life over the next few months.

I wasn’t around at the events, since I was a kid growing up in Europe at the time they began. But I remember watching these events unfold while watching MTV “House of Style,” and I remember them giving me hope that people who I admired and respected in these communities were coming out in public to raise money for such an important cause. I’ll never forget that.

The fundraising page can be found here; it ends on July 3.

The project also has an official website.

429Magazine

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Just another multi-disciplinary writer and bundle of contradictions trying to figure out how to get the most out of life, and make a living while I'm at it.

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