Winner 1996

The Celluloid Closet

Telling Pictures, HBO, Channel 4, London, England, ZDF-Arte (Germany/France)

This important film about the depiction of homosexuality in movies took almost 15 years to make. The project began when author and film historian Vito Russo began talking with filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman about making a film version of his 1981 book. At the time, Mr. Russo was national publicist for Mr. Epstein’s Peabody Award-winning film The Times of Harvey Milk. Though The Celluloid Closet, was intended to be one of Mr. Epstein and Mr. Friedman’s first films for their new company, the filmmakers instead turned their attention to the tragedy of AIDS, to produce Common Threads: Stories From the Quilt, which won a Peabody Award following its presentation on Home Box Office in 1989. Mr. Russo died of an AIDS-related illness in 1991. Shortly thereafter, England’s Channel 4, prominent Hollywood producer Howard Rosenman, co-executive producer and narrator Lily Tomlin, and Home Box Office vice president and executive producer Sheila Nevins stepped in with the financial and personal support which finally brought The Celluloid Closet into reality. The result is a stunning achievement: a film about one of the darker sides of film history that is itself as entertaining and informative as anything Hollywood “dream factory” has produced. For exploding sexual myths and for exploring how our attitudes about homosexuality and sex roles have been presented and affected by movies, a Peabody to The Celluloid Closet.