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Director John Scagliotti Explores LGBT Culture in 'Before Homosexuals'

by Steve Duffy
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Jul 25, 2017

Filmmaker John Scagliotti new film "Before Homosexuals" takes us on a tour of erotic history, poetry and visual art expressing same-sex desire from ancient times to Victorian crimes. It is a searching, thoughtful, humorously edgy point-of-view documentary that explores how the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the growth of LGBT political power in the decades that followed cleared the path for artists and scholars to re-discover the pre-20th century history of same-sex desire.

Scagliotti's previous work includes developing "In The Life," the PBS series on LGBT news magazine that aired from 1992 to 2012. In 1984 he produced the award-winning documentary "Before Stonewall" and directed its companion piece "After Stonewall" in 1999. In 2003 he directed "Dangerous Living: Coming Out in the Developing World," a doc that explores the issues experienced by gay, lesbian and transgender people in developing countries.

For more on "Before Homosexuals," visit the film's website.

John Scagliotti filming in Athens.

EDGE: How did you get into filmmaking?

John Scagliotti: Back in the early 1970s, I was the new director for WBCN (in Boston) and we produced the first gay and lesbian radio show. We also produced half hour radio documentaries. This was at the beginning of the new sound effects in radio. About 1978, I thought it would be fun to add pictures to the documentaries we were making and having no knowledge of how to do that, I enrolled in film school. My partner and I packed up and moved to NYC where I attended NYU film school. You can basically take one of my films and make it a radio program.

EDGE: What was your inspiration for writing this film?

John Scagliotti: While I was making 'Before Stonewall' there were no LGBT archives. In order to make the film, I had to interview hundreds of people from all over America. They provided us with the material and history that we needed. This film 'Before Homosexuals' is our history. This is the history lesson that we all need. This film is the affirmation of same-sex love that was etched in stone some 2,500 years ago.

EDGE: Why was this story important for you to tell?

John Scagliotti: It was a personal journey for me by finally discovering the things that I had only read in books. It's been wonderful to find this information and preserving it as part of our history. I had the great honor of interviewing author Louis Crompton for the film. He agreed to be part of the film while on this death bed. His insight into homosexuality and early civilization is something I will never forget.

EDGE: While conducting research, what was the most interesting or shocking thing you learned?

John Scagliotti: Overall, the most interesting thing was the fluidity of sexuality in the world. In the western world, we have a Leviticus view of sexuality. Before the book of Leviticus (in the Bible) there were lots of same-sex stories that were happening. It was the Colonial times that really destroyed our culture. They brought in the missionaries and their religious and put a stop to same-sex activities. Lucky for us, a lot of our gay history can be found in court records. Homosexuality is natural. It was society, rules and regulations that tried to change and stop it. We need to get back to our natural state.

An illustration by David Knight depicting the Egyptian god Set seduces the god Horus, as seen in "Before Homosexuals."

EDGE: At what point in history, did the naturalness of homosexuality turn the corner and become taboo?

John Scagliotti: It has two major impulses. Saint Paul and the Christian, were the beginners at setting the stage against homosexuality. The instinct or desire for sex is so strong in a human being (gay or straight). Our history has been about breaking rules because we are told it is not natural. During the Dark Ages, before the Renaissance, there was a big surge in homosexuality, but then we were slapped down. Our history comes in spikes and valleys. In the early 1970s after Stonewall, we were making strides then we were slapped down again only to make great strides again. It is an ever-repeating cycle.

EDGE: It's been 32 years since your film 'Before Stonewall,' do you feel that the cultural perception of the LGBT has really changed much in society?

John Scagliotti: Oh yes! What happened after stonewall, made people and institution change. We could no longer be ignored as a community. In the 1980s and 1990s, we did see a lot of changes for the better. We are now seeing huge successes in our culture because of that time. There is always more work to be done, especially when it comes to battling any backlash as a result of us trying to continue to move forward.

EDGE: What does the LGBT community have to do to gain more acceptance?

John Scagliotti: By coming out, we had to force society to deal with us (i.e. military, universities, government). Our primary work is how we deal with this acceptance. For the next 20 years, our work as a community is about how we deal with the backlash of people who want to put us back in the closet. We need to save what we have accomplished in the last 50 years. I think this is as far as we are going to move our agenda. We can't allow anyone to move us backwards, we have come too far.

An illustration from "Before Homosexuals" depicting the historic moment in 1867, when Karl Heinrich Ulrichs became the first man to publicly declare his homosexuality.

EDGE: Why don't we see more mainstream gay-themed movies?

John Scagliotti: I think it is all about marketing. While gay people are accepted, I don't feel that seeing our lifestyle on film is not. There is still a disgust in the heterosexual world for how we love. We are different and so is our lifestyle and there are not too many out there ready to see it. There is a liberal impulse in our society that does generically accept us. The heterosexual culture is very dominant and I don't believe they will be standing in line to buy a movie ticket to see a gay film anytime soon. Honestly, I don't think that the disgust factor has really gone away yet. People may like us, but they don't really don't want to see what we do behind closed doors.

EDGE: Where is 'Before Homosexuals' available for people to watch?

John Scagliotti: Before it is released to the public, our priority is to get it seen at film festivals and colleges. Since we are only a small group, we can only focus on one market at a time. I feel getting into the educational market is really important right now. I am hoping to make it available to the public by next June. I do keep the website updated as to future screenings.

EDGE: Are you working on any new projects or films?

John Scagliotti: You bet! I am working on a film titled 'Beyond Identity.' It is about how we approach and talk about sex. There will also be an element around the politic of it too. It is going to be some real exciting stuff.

For more information on John Scagliotti and "Before Homosexuals," visit http://beforehomosexuals.com

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