Marc Huestis named his cat Little Edie. “It’s from ‘Grey Gardens!’ It’s Little Edie Beale,” the filmmaker and legendary Castro impresario told The Daily Californian in an interview.
The film captivates as a camp classic — an unintentional stronghold in the canon of gay culture. The 1975 documentary not only christened his cat, but it also speaks to Huestis’ greater ethos.
In her first feature documentary, “Impresario,” director Lauretta Molitor managed to capture that ethos. With the film centering around the life and legacy of Huestis, Molitor carefully knitted his modern-day perspective with archival footage from his activist and theatrical work in the 1970s and ’80s.
A man of many hats, Huestis’ lifelong efforts during the post-Stonewall gay movement in San Francisco have cemented him in history. His work spans decades, ranging from feature-length films to benefit events with the likes of Rita Moreno.
But the idea for the documentary started not on a grand stage or big screen, but rather in a home garden.
“He was so surprisingly relaxed and waxing philosophical,” Molitor remarked, recalling how she observed Huestis at work. “That’s how it started — just thinking everyone has a story to tell and just thinking that his should be told.”
The pair first met in the 1980s when Molitor helped Huestis get gear for one of his famed tributes, in which a community hit hard by the AIDS epidemic honored a friend on the Castro stage. This one in particular was for Chuck Solomon, another leader in the San Francisco theater world. The idea for the tributes, which Huestis now refers to as the moments of his career he is most proud of, was “about celebrating people while they are still here” — a sort of living memorial.
“We changed history with that,” he emphasized. He noted that back then, he didn’t have the same historical perspective of his work. “When you live history, you just live it. You don’t think about how people will look 20 years from now.”
Now, with his legacy depicted on film, his impact has never been more clear. In some ways, “Impresario” takes on a similar tone to his tributes.
“In a way, this screening might be a little bit of that same energy, of capturing the appreciation of my career while I’m still here,” Huestis commented.
The shared history between director and subject is felt through the screen, as Molitor carefully depicts her own perspective of Huestis by incorporating interviews from his friends along with shots of domestic life. For Molitor, this was no easy task.
Quoting one of Huestis’ films, she commented how “each person is like a whole little world.” Indeed, filled with little moments and tiny intricacies that can reach and impact on a greater scale, illustrating the full scope of someone like Huestis took a careful hand.
“This was really hard for me — to reach the people that knew Marc, as well as the people who don’t know Marc or the people that think they know Marc,” Molitor said.
And Huestis, as the subject himself, has no doubt she succeeded.
“One of the things I love about the movie is that it captures the good, the bad and the ugly — warts and all,” he grinned. “There’s no bells and whistles to it. It’s just a simple character study — in which I just happen to be the character!”
In addition to its wholehearted portrayal of Huestis, the documentary also serves as a time capsule for a time that was rarely capsulized. The Castro Theatre acts as a character in its own right, with a large majority of Huestis’ body of work starting and showing on its stage.
“Impresario” displays much of his own archival footage of the theater — mostly because the film is about him, but also because there is barely any other documentation of the era.
“There’s no footage of it!” Huestis exclaimed. “Who knew?”
The impact of Marc Huestis spreads far, and Molitor makes sure to emphasize his influence. It was never, however, the goal of Huestis to leave a lasting memory, even if his crucial role as a creative during the gay rights movement guaranteed it.
“The ones that survive historically are the ones that are not subconscious about legacy,” he reflected.
Since the days of Huestis’ and Molitor’s prominent work in the San Francisco gay community, the Castro District has changed quite a bit. Yet the two made their return with the premiere of “Impresario” at the city’s annual Frameline Film Festival, the world’s oldest LGBTQ+ film festival co-founded by Huestis himself.
“It’s gonna be like a ‘this is your life’ moment for me,” Molitor expressed. “I have family coming, and film people are my community and they are gonna be there. Everyone is going to be there.”
Huestis had a bit of a different perspective on the differences between then and now.
“I hope people like me!” he said with a laugh. “There won’t be any screaming queens at the documentary going ‘girl’ or ‘fabulous!’ But I think there will be appreciative eyes that will hopefully enjoy it.”
“Impresario” is temporarily streaming on Frameline46. Lauretta Molitor wanted to thank Lauren Schwartzman, Alan Toth and Clare Major from the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism for their work on the film.