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AN INTERVIEW WITH "THE GODFATHER OF DISCO" FILMMAKER GENE GRAHAM

By Maria Esteves - July 12, 2007

NewFest 2007: The 19th Annual New York LGBT Film Festival N.Y. Premiere THE GODFATHER OF DISCO documentary film, directed by Gene Graham was held at AMC Loews 34th St Theater, Friday, June 1, 5:45 p.m. A special Q&A immediately followed. The N.Y. Premiere after party was held at The Zipper Factory Theater Tavern, 7:30pm. I had the privilege of interviewing emerging award-winner director Gene Graham, Sunday, July 1, 1:00pm.

Q: What inspired the making of the documentary film "THE GODFATHER OF DISCO?"

GG: I read Mel Cheren's autobiography "My Life and the Paradise Garage" and thought it would make a great documentary film. West End Records President Kevin Hedge, invited me to assist as an editor in the making of the film and during the course of a year, I became the director.

Q: What is the film about?

GG: The film is about the life of Mel Cheren and the people he touched. We interviewed people who knew Mel and the history of dance music during the 70's and 80's. The disco era was a magical moment in the history of dance music and Mel was one of the reasons why it happened. Cowboy, Randy Jones of the Village People calls it, "A Golden Age of Music in America." It's also a reminder of HIV/AIDS. The film is humorous, entertaining and emotional. If anybody walks away with the music part, the HIV/AIDS part, gay pioneer part, or the sense of a life well lived then you were touched by the film.

Q: What film festival was "THE GODFATHER OF DISCO" introduced?

GG: We did our official world premiere at Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival, in April 2007. The film received the Emerging Filmmakers Award. Our June 2007, premieres were in New York at NewFest 2007, in San Francisco at FramelIne 31, and in Connecticut at Out Film CT LGBT Film Festival. In July 2007, our premieres are in Louisiana at New Orleans Reel Identities Film Festival, July 19th, and in Pennsylvania at Philadelphia International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, July 21st.. In August 2007, our premieres are in New Mexico at Santa Fe Film Festival Fabulous Thursday's, and London's Portobello Film Festival. In September 2007, our premieres are in Greece at Athens International Film Festival, in Portugal at Lisbon LGBT Film Festival and we're returning to NewFest@BAM in Brooklyn, New York. We are the Opening Night Presentation film at Fire Island Film & Video Festival, September 12th.

Q: What has been the audience reaction?

GG: The audience reaction has been amazing! Our N.Y. Premiere at NewFest 2007 was great and the audience was very supportive. In San Francisco, the audience reacted in amazement when the film showed Mel walking by the former Paradise Garage dance venue, which is a Verizon Truck depot today. We have young, old, gay and straight people coming to see the film.

Q: Were you personally affected by the disco era and/or HIV/AIDS epidemic during the 1980's?

GG: Yes, I loved that era in dance music and HIV/AIDS did affect me. As a teenager living in Cleveland, Ohio, I glamorized the decadence of New York City from afar. In 1985, I knew people who died from HIV/AIDS but not someone personally.

Q: How long did it take to make the film and what was the budget?

GG: The film took a year and a half to make. We began shooting in the fall 2005 and finished editing in April 2007. Paradise Garage 30th Anniversary is actually in July 2007 and I wanted the film to be screening at festivals. The budget was modest. It's an independent film.

Q: What was the visual style of the film?

GG: The film is an interview that went through eras. Visual illustrations were used during the interviews. We used Mel's archival footages and a collection of footage from the LGBT Center in New York. For instance, Larry Levan's Memorial Service, November 1992; and Mel receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2005 Dance Music Hall Of Fame. The pacing of the movie was important during the interviews. We used templates to discuss the songs and Mel's early accomplishments in the music industry.

Q: Any interest from film distributors?

GG: Yes, we have been approached.

Q: Gene, where and what year were you born?

GG: I was born November 26, 1964 in Lynn, Massachusetts.

Q: Where and what did you studied?

GG: I'm a graduate from FIT in Advertising and Marketing Communications. My career began in advertising at Men's Health Magazine.

Q: At what point in your life you became interested in the film industry?

GG: Five years ago, when Apple Computer released Final Cut Pro Software, I began editing using the program.

Q: What was the first film you have directed that pushed you to the public consciousness?

GG: THE GODFATHER OF DISCO is my directorial debut. I come to direct from editing. In 2003, I edited THE SKI TRIP comedy feature film. In 2006, I co-produced and edited DIRTY LAUNDRY feature film.

Q: Any new projects currently being considered?

GG: Yes, a psychological thriller feature film is currently being considered.

For more information visit: THE GODFATHER OF DISCO

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