BRATTLEBORO — For Guilford resident John Scagliotti, attending the world premier of his film, "Before Homosexuals," in the city of Boston was like coming full-circle.
After all, it's the city in which he had an encounter more than 40 years ago that led to a landmark decision for the personal freedom of gays and lesbians. It was in 1975 when he was arrested and charged with "soliciting to commit unnatural and lascivious acts." Scagliotti fought his guilty conviction all the way to the state supreme court - and with the help of the ACLU, it was overturned.
The film opens with a telling of that encounter juxtaposed with 2,500-year old same-sex amorous graffiti etched in stone on the Greek island of Astypalaia. The film is an investigation of expressions of same-sex desire, as its tagline reads from "ancient times to Victorian crimes" through art, poetry and recovered history.
"Before Homosexuals" is a prequel to Scagliotti's Emmy Award-winning 1986 film, "Before Stonewall" and its successor, "After Stonewall," in 1999. Four years later he produced "Dangerous Living: Coming Out in the Developing World."
" 'After Stonewall' is about the modern-day gay movement and culture," he said. " 'Dangerous Living' was set in Egypt. It was time for a prequel to emphasize the changes taking place around the world."
After his stint in Boston, where he and his partner, the late Andrew Kopkind, produced pioneering radio documentaries as well as America's first gay and lesbian commercial radio program; Scagliotti moved to New York City, where he received his Master's Degree in television and film at NYU. He also created America's first gay and lesbian television series, "In the Life," which ran for 21 years on PBS. After Kopkind's death in 1994, Scagliotti moved his base of operations to his home studio in Guilford.
He co-founded the Kopkind Colony in 1999, which, among other things, holds a summer filmmakers workshop in collaboration with the Center for Independent Documentary. Scagliotti was awarded an honorary doctorate by Marlboro College in 2015 in recognition of his service to the gay, lesbian, and allied communities.
It took him seven years to make "Before Homosexuals," which 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.
The film will be traveling to screenings around the country, including at film festivals and roughly 2,000 universities. The producers expect to host a Brattleboro premier screening in the fall.
"Making my earlier films if I went to the archives I couldn't find anything about (LGBT) history before the 1920s because it was hidden away," he said. "It's not just important we've found this material, it's important we're now in positions that will allow us to do so."
In the '90s, during which what Scagliotti calls a "gay revolution," research grants were awarded out to find this information.
"We needed to go back in time because there was now information about Greece, Africa, Japan ..." he said. "I interviewed people from all over the world who've done this research."
One of the people who received a research grant was Dr. Bernadette Brooten, MacArthur Genius Grant Recipient and professor at Brandeis University, who joined Scagliotti for the Q&A session following the Boston premier screening earlier this month as part of the 33rd Annual Wicked Queer LGBT Film Festival.
Among the several time periods on which the film focuses is The Renaissance. "It's filled with Greek and Roman stories about same-sex," said Scagliotti. One of the stories the film highlights is that of Michelangelo, who wrote more than 300 sonnets and madrigals seen as evidence of his homosexual leanings. They were in 1623 with the gender of pronouns changed, and it was not until the English translations were published in 1878 that the original genders were restored.
"Censorship is part of that story yet the poetry is beautiful," said Scagliotti.
In addition to traveling the world to tell this story, Scagliotti drew on talent from the Brattleboro area for many aspects of the film. Michael Hanish (Guilford) shot a lot of the principal cinematography; Matt Bucy (White River Junction) was the film's digital colorist; Dave Snyder (Guilford) was the film's Director of Recording from his studio Guilford Sound, where many local voices were recorded, including those of Suzanne d'Corsey (Brattleboro), Guilford Selectman Richard Wizansky, as literary giant Oscar Wilde.
Many local artisans also contributed to the film. Bookbinder Susan Bonthron (Guilford) created an intricate tunnel book to visualize a lesbian love poem from Imperial China. Photographer Liz LaVorgna (Brattleboro) with the help of HB Lozito (Brattleboro) organized and shot a re-enactment of Natalie Clifford Barney's Paris salon at the Latchis Theater last year. The Belden Hill Boogie Band (Jeremy Gold, Susan Bonthron, Dave Hall, Patty Carpenter, and Joan Peters) composed aneloquent rendition of "I'm Goin' Home" for the film's section on Walt Whitman's influence on the early call for gay liberation.
Scagliotti was pleased to see young gay activists attending the Boston premier screening at the Museum of Fine Arts.
"It's exciting for me with this change in the climate in America where young people are demonstrating on the streets," said Scagliotti. "I think it's really important they know about the history that got them to where they are today."
Nicole S. Colson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org