Film Professor Premiers Documentary at Sundance

Jean Carlomusto discusses the experience of sharing her film, Larry Kramer in Love and Anger, at the world-renowned film festival

Larry Kramer in Love and AngerIn February, Jean Carlomusto, professor of media arts and director of the Television Center at LIU Post, celebrated the premiere of her documentary film, Larry Kramer in Love and Anger, at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

The film is a personal portrait of one of the most important and controversial figures in the history of gay America. Larry Kramer, now 79, was the fierce and uncompromising voice of outrage and grief during the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New York City. He documented this troubled time in his largely autobiographical, Tony Award-winning play, The Normal Heart, which Kramer recently turned into a screenplay for the celebrated HBO film adaptation. Kramer’s abrasive and inflammatory approach made him a pariah in both the gay and straight communities. But his unrelenting anger and refusal to be silenced ultimately helped overcome political inaction and indifference towards AIDS research and treatment.

Carlomusto has been involved in the HIV/AIDS activism community for almost 30 years, gathering footage along the way. In the mid-1980s, she took on a project creating educational videos for Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), the nation’s first HIV/AIDS activism organization, co-founded by Kramer before he was ousted after his scathing verbal attacks on prominent political figures and colleagues. In 1987, Carlomusto founded the media production unit at GMHC, filming protests, rallies, and other civil disobedience actions relating to the HIV/AIDS crisis and LGBT rights. She later worked with Kramer through the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), documenting the history of the struggle over three decades.

Carlomusto’s long relationship with Kramer offers an intimate perspective on the man that few have seen before. During the making of the documentary, Kramer, who has been living with HIV for more than 25 years, became seriously ill while recovering from a liver transplant. "He was fighting for his life. He never gave up, and neither did his husband, David Webster," Carlomusto said. Webster encouraged her to continue filming, so the film includes many vulnerable moments.

"People who didn’t even know who Larry was were blown away by what he was able to accomplish," Carlomusto said about the Sundance audience’s reaction to the film. "Those who knew Larry as a bitter, angry old man saw another side of him that is very gentle and sweet," she said.

But the most moving reaction was from others who lived through that time. One older man told her he felt like he was watching home movies. He saw the painful truth of his own life. "They were very appreciative that we represented their history. Hearing that made me feel really good," Carlomusto said. 

While great strides have been made for the civil rights of the LGBTQ community, and progress has been made in treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS, "it took far too long, too many lives have been lost, and there’s still no cure," Carlomusto said. She made this film because she felt a sense of duty to remember and tell the story of the lives that were lost and the man who was so influential in "fighting for a cure to lift this plague out of our society."

Now back on campus in Brookville, Carlomusto can’t wait to show Larry Kramer to her students and the LIU community. She hopes the film will illuminate a leader who managed to stay true to what he believed in, even when it made him very unpopular. "I hope it inspires students to find their own passion in the world and to develop their own voice and vision of how to represent that."

Larry Kramer in Love and Anger will premiere on HBO in June, coinciding with Kramer’s 80th birthday and Gay Pride Month.

—By Rachel DeLetto, LIU Magazine Spring 2015