‘Impresario’ impresses as warm welcome into LGBTQ activist Marc Huestis’ world

photo of castro district
Skylar De Paul/File

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It is often said that history is written by the victors, an earnest if not snide remark on the verisimilitude of historical narratives. The take, however, seems to view history through a pinhole, relegating the past to a series of battles or events to be won.

But much of history, the less tactile history, is written by those who lived it. 

Director Lauretta Molitor displays this closeness in her first feature documentary, “Impresario.” In its 60-minute runtime, the film offers a welcoming hand into the world of Marc Huestis — filmmaker, cultural curator and complete character. 

Huestis’ work in San Francisco’s Castro district as an artist and social activist spans decades, with his impact still lasting. He was never a politician, nor does he ever claim to be. Rather, he’s been a community’s cornerstone, offering a safe space for the ’70s and ’80s LGBTQ+ community through art, unafraid and unconventional. Now, years later, Molitor has decided to flip the camera to Huestis.

As Huestis and Molitor have known each other since their early days in the Castro, the documentary embraces a level of intimacy lost in other recounts of history. It teems with an inviting closeness between subject and lens, made only possible when the story is being told entirely by those who were there when it unfolded. Yet, the viewer is never made to feel as if they are intruding: The film is honest and open, but the vulnerability is comfortable saying, “Sit, stay a while.”

The documentary moves through time, shifting between archival footage of the Castro and interviews with Huestis and his colleagues today, reflecting on the past. The film is far from flashy, offering simple cuts and unornamented camera work. At times, it feels homegrown in its simplicity rather than highly informational and technical, not to the detriment of Molitor’s work. As a director, she allowed the story to speak for itself, though her craftsmanship still glows from within.

Huestis on camera, then and now, is a force to be reckoned with. It’s evident that he makes no effort to hide parts of himself — he’s always bright, always bold. Perhaps a lifetime in showbiz will do that to a person, but with Huestis, it’s innate. It’s easy to understand why his friends and associates speak of him with such fondness. At times, the film depicts him as a bit more brash than bubbly, but it’s in his bluntness that much of his charm lives — whether he’s parading on stage, or tending to his garden.

Even as the documentary clearly centers on a single individual, Molitor grants the viewer a broader glimpse into what the Castro community once was. “We came here to be gay here,” said David Weissman, Huestis’ fellow filmmaker. As social outcasts in a world that was still largely anti-LGBTQ+, the community’s existence was rarely documented and hardly ever by a friendly eye. Molitor remedies this by incorporating much of Marc’s own footage from the time, treating the Castro as a second subject with its own story to tell. 

With this comes an effort to include both the good and the harrowing. Behind Huestis’ gleeful celebrations for the community is an overarching message of celebrating those you love while they are still around. As a survivor of HIV, Huestis presents an acute awareness of mortality that bleeds into many aspects of the documentary. 

“I always thought I would be the first to go,” Huestis said, the film rolling a shot of him today near his forested cabin. Molitor takes extra care in the importance of this message, placing an emphasis on Huestis’ famed events in which one person was given a memorial service while they were still alive. The film’s inclusion of shots from those past events feels cathartic, as the emotional jumble of joy and grief emanates strength.

Full of heart, “Impresario” is a tender, powerful depiction of the triumphs unleashed when a community stands to represent itself. Through the directorial talents of Lauretta Molitor, Marc Huestis shines bright — as he always has, and through his impact, always will. 

Contact Afton Okwu at [email protected].